Oriana Fallaci, one of the greatest journalists of the 20th century, was never associated with pleasure, but she was a towering role model in how to be gutsy, speak the truth—and basically not take b.s. from anybody. For sure, Oriana was obsessed with work, laboring around the clock and nourishing herself with coffee and cigarettes. In the 1950s and 1960s when she macheted her way to the top of male-dominated journalism and became the best interviewer in the world, she had to work twice as hard as a man, she said, otherwise they’d reject her. Her personal life, not surprisingly, suffered: she was nomadic, never home. Ignored her health. Didn’t have a partner or children, which she badly wanted.  

Then one day, at age 44, Oriana fell in love with a charismatic young freedom fighter. Alexander (Alekos) Panagoulis was Greek, and one thing the Greeks know how to do: enjoy life. Oriana did something unheard of, she put aside work to live. In this scene from my new historical novel ORIANA, she’s visiting Glyfada, the sesaside hamlet Alekos calls home, at the start of their affair and discovers what she’s been missing.

Oriana had always known that she wasn’t made for pleasure.

Pleasure was for luckier or lazier people and she was

meant to work. Less than a week by Alekos’s side upended that

perception and she saw herself in a startling new light. She

deserved. She was gaining something she should have always

had. The sky would not come crashing down if she loosened the

reins of discipline she imposed on herself. If she indulged in life’s

enjoyments for once, rather than deprive herself, she would not

be punished.

The days in Glyfada took on a holiday rhythm. Breakfast

was fatty sheep’s yogurt drizzled with honey on the wrap-around

veranda overlooking the sea. Alekos skinned fat purple figs and

fed her sugary bites off his paring knife. Athena bustled in and

out with piping hot bread and giant juicy peaches, and though

her face lit up at the sight of her son, it dimmed into a more

complicated expression for Oriana, one that seemed to say, I just

got my son back, only to lose him to her?

After breakfast, swimming in the turquoise Aegean. The

beach was a minute’s walk from the house, and Alekos and his

brother had grown up in bathing suits, diving off the rocks from

Easter to November. Oriana didn’t know how to swim. She was

a city girl who crossed the Piazza Signoria daily and took the

statue of David for granted. She envied Alekos’s ease, the way the

sea was a second skin.

He taught her. She slipped off her beaded cover-up, glad

she’d splurged on the Missoni bikini, glad they had the virgin

beach to themselves. Followed him into the crystalline water,

which was colder than she’d imagined, with minnows weaving

around her ruby toes.

“Don’t wet my hair,” she said. He wet her hair, then scooped

his hands under her belly as she kicked her feet. Oriana didn’t

recognize the sensation of sudden lightness, the burst of joy that

came over her, yet oddly she did.

“Put your face in the water and blow bubbles,” he said. “Now

turn to the side and breathe.” She did. There was a whole universe

of beach customs she had missed out on as a girl, but she was an

excellent student and liked what he was teaching her. Liked the

way she was opening up to him and the sea as a second skin.

Afterward, they collapsed on the sand, the Mediterranean

heat unraveling muscles, slowing the mind, transforming her

into the natural woman she was meant to be. Alekos dozed

under the scorching sun with his hand on her thigh. Her affair

with Pelou had been clandestine, but this man belonged to her in

broad daylight. He made love to her and said loving things and

promised to be her person.

“You would make a wonderful mother,” Alekos murmured.

“What?” She turned her head but he had drifted off again.

Madonna. Was he serious or dreaming? Children? They were

moving fast, Alekos was fast. But she was forty-four, who knew

if she had any decent eggs left. Where would they live? Not in

his country, though it was stunningly beautiful. She told herself

to relax, don’t jump ahead, how lucky to find this man. Why

couldn’t she trust life for once?

They went to Oscar, his favorite cafe in Glyfada, and ate

lunch alfresco in rattan armchairs. The first afternoon, the

proprietor pumped Alekos’s hand, calling the waiter to bring

two ouzos on the house. “This boy did something great,” he said.

“He has Greece inside him.”

After lunch they bought newspapers at the corner kiosk,

where the one-armed veteran refused Alekos’s money, then 

bent their heads together at their table. It wasn’t long before the

Greek newspapers went berserk publishing photos of the two of

them smoking and drinking at the café. Then some paparazzo

caught them wet and embracing on Glyfada beach.

“Merda. They’re turning me into Jackie O,” Oriana said,

smacking the paper.

“Jackie was nude,” Alekos teased. The former First Lady had

been caught by telephoto lens sunbathing au naturel on Onassis’s

private island.

“They won’t catch me at that one,” Oriana said. “No more

untying my bikini.”

“Fine,” he said, trailing his fingers down her back. She


It wasn’t so funny when gossip began flying in Italy. Foto,

the rag that splashed naked girls on its cover, that tried to

compete with L’Europeo but was only good for lighting logs in

the fireplace, ran a blind item headlined “Fallaci’s Younger

Man.” Her eyes darted over it. Alexander Panagoulis is a dashing

freedom fighter, and the moment Fallaci saw him on television, she

stole the interview from a colleague and rushed to Greece. She spent

the night on his sofa and from there it was a small step to his bed. It’s

true what they say, Fallaci uses feminine wiles to trap her subjects.

Shit. How did Foto know she’d “stolen” the assignment from

Mulotti? The answer leapt to her brain: The little bastard was


“What’s wrong?” Alekos said, seeing her expression.

“Nothing.” She regretted telling Lucia to forward her damn

mail. “They’re running their mouths about us in Italy.”

“Let them.” Alekos took the tabloid and folded it away. 

“Enough reading.” He shot her a smoldering look that said he wanted her 

that instant. 

In previous affairs, Oriana had grown bored with sex. The

opposite was true with Alekos. All he had to do was glance at

her, brush against her, and she snapped out of her cerebral

habitat and became a liquidy, spongy self. It was an awakening

in her forties, the way he took her outdoors, indoors, with soft

insistence. The way he glued his body against hers, smothering

her with affection.

It’s not giving away the plot to say that eventually, Oriana misses work and returns to journalism, making a heroic effort to have it all.  But life, with its twists and turns, always exacts a price—as we know.

Still, pleasure is always available to us, through good times and bad. It might not be an option to fall madly in love or relax on a Greek beach, but we can indulge in what was fun and put a smile on our faces in our younger, carefree days. Reading for an hour in broad daylight. Feeling the breeze on our cheeks as we walk outdoors with a friend. Dancing. Singing. Rolling on the floor with a child or dog. Belly laughing. Pleasure doesn’t have to be postponed.

Remember: we deserve

Excerpted from ORIANA: A Novel of Oriana Fallaci by Anastasia Rubis. Published March 2024.


  • Anastasia Rubis has been published in The New York TimesHuffington PostNew York Observer, and literary journals. Her story “Blue Pools” was included in the anthology Oh, Baby published by Creative Nonfiction and edited by Lee Gutkind. Another story, “Girl Falling,” was named a Notable Essay in Best American Essays. She co-wrote and co-directed the short documentary Breakfast Lunch Dinner: The Greek Diner Story Anastasia earned a B.A. magna cum laude from Brown University and an M.A. from Montclair State University, where she was an adjunct professor of English. Early in her career, she was an advertising and public relations executive in Manhattan. She and her husband live in New Jersey, where they raised their daughter, and she spends summers in Greece, where her parents were born. Oriana is her debut novel.