Italy’s Oriana Fallaci, the 46-year-old international correspondent, is widely known as the scourge of politicians for her aggressive, slashing interviews—and the controversies they engender. She is the author of seven books and has interviewed—often with devastating results—such figures as Robert Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir and the Shah of Iran. Her articles are published worldwide and translated into more than a dozen languages. A journalist since age 16, Fallaci covered bombing raids in Vietnam and was wounded in Mexico. Her most recent work—and in many ways her most personal—Is a first novel, Letter to a Child Never Born, which has sold more than 600,000 copies in Italy. Simon & Schuster published it last month. Fallaci recently talked with Sally Moore of PEOPLE about her work, her life and her recent sorrows.
You describe yourself as a different woman today. Why is that?
Alekos Panagoulis, the man I loved, was killed last May. Two months ago my mother died of a long cancer. I am crushed by these things. From the moment Alekos died, I left journalism, shut myself in my country house and started a book about him.
Do you feel that you have finished with journalism?
I know I am a writer; it is the only thing I am sure of. I have faced so much death recently that I have thought of my own; I know now the only way to die a little less is to leave something: in my case it will be a few books.
Why did you admire Panagoulis?
Because he was, in my opinion, the only man in Greece to do something during the dictatorship. He didn’t involve anybody else. He made his own bomb and tried to blow up the car of George Papadopoulos [Greece’s strongman from 1967 to 1973], but the bomb went off one second too late. He was tortured as no one has been: there wasn’t a bone in his body intact. At the trial he admitted he was guilty and said he was sorry he had failed. He was condemned, but there was such world resistance—from the Pope, President Johnson—that they were afraid to execute him. He was in prison until the summer of 1973, when he was freed under the amnesty.
Where were you during his trial?
In Mexico, covering the 1968 Olympics. When the troops opened fire on student protesters just before the Games, I was shot twice. The two men beside me died.
What happened to Panagoulis?
After he got out of prison, I helped get him out of Greece. We lived together in Italy, but he went back several times to Greece on a phony passport. I went with him, although I was warned I was in danger. Then when the dictatorship fell, he was elected to parliament. He was a deputy when he died.
Why do you think he was murdered?
Because he had documents of the Greek military police [ESA] that linked the Papadopoulos junta to those in power today. He died the night before he was to present those papers in parliament. It was all organized, a simulated car accident.
Your new novel is about an unmarried woman’s dialogue with her unborn child. Was it your child?
Yes, and the father was Alekos, the man I loved.
Why did you write the book?
To do literature, not journalism. It’s dedicated to all women who face the dilemma of giving life or denying it.
What is the book about?
It’s about the experience of being pregnant. The question she addresses to her unborn embryo is: Do I have the right to put you in this world, if you don’t want it? She tells him what the world is like, in all its ugliness. About being a woman, about poverty and war. It’s a love-hate story between her and the unborn child. When the child decides not to be born, and dies, she feels she may be dying too.
In the book, the pregnant woman risks her child for her career. Is that you?
It’s exactly what I did. It happened because I wouldn’t stay in bed, I didn’t take care of myself and I lost the child.
Did you ever wish to marry?
Never. Why would we? We were two revolutionary people speaking against marriage. We would have been ridiculed in front of the whole world. I didn’t want it. Neither did he.
Then it is a very personal book?
It is not me, although there is me in it, my mother, my sister as well. It is about every woman who has to face such a problem. Even Alekos is in it—the phrase that closes the book, “life doesn’t die,” is his.
In the novel, the child’s father doesn’t want the child. Is that what Alekos felt?
It was not Alekos. He was annoyed by my portrayal of the man. But it isn’t a man’s business; I insist that the relationship of maternity is exclusively a woman’s concern.
How do you think men will react to your book?
Already I think they are reading it more than women. I have letters from men who write they have cried over it, that they want to know the feelings of women.
Have you ever had a sexual relationship with an interview subject?
No. That’s a matter of pride. They’ll never catch me at that one. The most humiliating thing a woman can be is a coquette. The world thinks, if a man sleeps with a woman he interviews, he’s a journalist. If a woman does it, she’s a whore.
Do you ask very personal questions of people you interview?
No—only of those in power. With them, you must do anything. They have no rights. I asked the Shah of Iran about his women, Golda offered to speak with love about her husband. Arafat? I don’t think he loves women, so there wasn’t any problem. Indira spoke about the problems of being a woman leader; it was tragic for her marriage.
Why do people in power fascinate you?
Because, you must remember, we’re not speaking of normal people but of those who rule our lives, command us, decide if we live or die, in freedom or in tyranny.
Do you regret any of your interviews?
Only that I’ve sometimes been too kind. When I fall in love with a character, as I did with Indira, I have reasons to regret. But then she wasn’t a dictator yet. Then there was that American Lieutenant [Robert] Frishman of the U.S. Navy, whom I interviewed in Hanoi. He was acting so cowardly in front of the North Vietnamese. It makes me crazy to see a man in chains, humiliated, so I was very good to him. Then he came home the hero. He pretended not to recognize me, and I got furious. I was kind with Thieu [South Vietnam’s ex-president], because the moment I saw him I judged him to be a victim of American policy. He was crying.
Then where does your reputation for brutality come from?
Americans invented a character that doesn’t exist. What I am—forgive an act of pride—is courageous. Most of our colleagues don’t have the guts to ask the right questions. I asked Thieu, “How corrupt are you?”
You fought in your interview with William Colby, former CIA head. Why?
Do you know who he is? He’s just like [Mikhail] Suslov, who’s the real theoretician of the Soviet Communist party. They have the same face, both are cold; they’re both monks, fanatics. He accused me of having gone to him with an intellectual bias; I never met a man with more intellectual bias than Colby. To him, anyone who isn’t a reactionary is a Communist. He resisted. We fought. It was fascinating.
Do you see a real leader on the American scene?
No. Leaders appear at very special moments in history. The U.S. is not in the kind of turmoil at the present to produce one.
Whom did you fail to interview that you wished to?
Salvador Allende [Chile’s late president], he is my great sorrow. I’d like to meet Fidel Castro; he’s a very special kind of dictator, and it seems to me a very desperate one. Also, I think, very warm, very sexy.
Is there no one you would still want to interview?
I am through with that. But perhaps when I am finished with my book, I would like to ask the Pope some questions about abortion. But I am pregnant with this new novel which I am writing now: it is a wonderful book, a love story, a political story, about a relationship between a man and a woman in our time. Nobody will hear from me again until I finish it.