by Roberto Saviano
Questo libro è eccezionale. It's so exceptional, in fact, that I decided to replace the controversial but highly regarded Italian novel I had in mind for this leg of my Orbis Terrarum Challenge travels with this absolutely stunning non-fiction masterpiece aimed at exposing Naples' organized crime scene. Part diligent investigative reporting chronicle/part furious, outraged denunciation of the way business as usual is conducted in the increasingly interconnected global and mob economies, Gomorrah is a work that's almost impossible to put down even when Saviano's only setting up a scene. An example: "I used to go to the port to eat fish. Not that nearness to the sea means anything in terms of the quality of the restaurant. I'd find pumice stones, sand, even boiled seaweed in my food. The clams were fished up and tossed right into the pan. A guarantee of freshness, a Russian roulette of infection" (Saviano, 9).
While this terse, Tacitean prose and a flair for description are typical of Saviano's breathless but decidedly no-bullshit style, an equal reward for readers is that he's somehow at his most fearless and lucid precisely when he's most at risk from the information he's revealing. From stories about bootleg haute couture to the nightmarish details explaining how Italy's hazardous waste winds up in poor people's backyards, Saviano seems to have the inside scoop on practically everything that "the system" is involved with. Want to know what it feels like to be stuck in the middle of a clan war? Read the chapter on the Secondigliano War. Want to know what happens when a doctor tries to assist a victim of mob violence who's been left to die in the streets? Read the anecdote about Saviano's own father, beaten up so badly by associates of the suspected hitmen that he couldn't look anybody in the eye for months afterward. Want to know what it feels like to stay in the cesspool where you grew up when other hometown friends have either joined the camorristi or fled for safer lives far away from the Naples area? Read the sequence where Saviano describes vacationing friends returning home--those who "smile sarcastically at you, wondering whom you have become. They look at you from head to toe, try to size you up, figure out if you are a chiachiello or a bbuono. A failure or a Camorrista" (119).
A working journalist, Saviano is now under police protection because he chose not to become either a Camorrista or a failure. You can read a little more by him below and see the response to Gomorrah by an Italian blogger I like here. In the meantime, I give the book 5/5 stelle (*****) for delivering the writing and the reporting goods with conviction.
"On December 26, 2004, Dario Scherillo, a twenty-six-year-old, is riding his motorcycle when he's shot in the face and chest and left to die in a puddle of his blood, which soaks his shirt completely. An innocent man. But he was from Casavatore, a town that has been chewed up by the conflict. For him there is still silence and incomprehension. No epigraph, no plaque, no remembrance. 'When someone is killed by the Camorra, you never know,' an old man tells me as he crosses himself at the spot where Dario was killed. Not all blood is the same color. Dario's is reddish purple and seems to still be flowing. The piles of sawdust have a hard time absorbing it all. After a bit a car takes advantage of the space and parks on top of the stain. Everything comes to an end. Everything gets covered over. Dario was killed to send a message to the town, a message of flesh sealed in an envelope of blood. As in Bosnia, Algeria, Somalia, as in any confused internal war, when it's hard to understand which side you're on, it's enough to kill your neighbor, a dog, your friend, or your relative. The hint of kinship or physical resemblance is all it takes to become a target. It's enough to walk down a certain street to immediately acquire an identity of lead. What matters is to concentrate as much pain, tragedy, and terror as possible, and the only objective is to show absolute strength, uncontested control, and the impossibility of opposing the real and ruling power. To the point that you get used to thinking the way they do, like those who might take offense at a gesture or a phrase. To save your life, to avoid touching the high-voltage line of revenge, you have to be careful, wary, silent. As I was leaving, as they were taking away Attilio Romanò, I started to understand. To understand why there is not a moment in which my mother does not look at me with anxiety, unable to understand why I don't leave, run away, why I keep living in this hell. I tried to recall how many have fallen, how many have been killed since the day I was born" (118-119).
- Saviano, Roberto. Gomorrah (translated from the Italian by Virginia Jewiss). New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007. http://www.fsgbooks.com/