Roberto Saviano, Gomorra (2006)

I can’t say that I’m fascinated by the Mafia in the same way as movie buffs worship the Godfather series or the Sopranos. But I periodically choose to read about organized crime, because I’m deeply convinced that it is much more woven into our economy and society than we’re usually willing to acknowledge. It’s just that I don’t want to turn a blind eye on this.

Roberto Saviano has just reinforced my opinion on the subject, but his book is not a rational analysis of the mechanisms of corruption and power: it’s rather full of raw emotions, almost of passion. It’s partly an essay, partly a memoir, or maybe a travel account. You visit streets of Secondigliano (the Naples suburb most pervaded by organized crime), you breath the sea air at the harbour, you smell the rotting waste and the blood shed by the victims. It’s very personal, and at times lyrical, while trying to give you a complete picture of how “the system” works. So it can’t avoid looking a little messy while you’re reading it, but at the end you discover that Saviano has led us readers through all the major areas of influence of the Naples organized crime, the Camorra: fake luxury goods (it starts rather benign), then drugs, then weapons, then toxic waste traffic. Nice program, isn’t it?

The whole picture is dizzying. When you start with the fake brand-name clothes, you may shrug and think that the parallel economy is just a side-effect of traditions and of a weakened state where the legal circuit is too full of red tape to be really effective. And I don’t really care about brand name goods anyway. But soon enough it gets a lot darker, and I defy anyone not to care. The criminals have gone to a degree of inhumanity that just blows your mind: they don’t hesitate to use drug-addicts as guinea-pigs to measure the purity of a drug mix, to use underage teenagers to drive lorries full of waste so toxic that professional lorry drivers refuse to go for fear of being lethally intoxicated. The toxic stuff are just thrown into pits anywhere in the countryside, and covered by shallow earth where later construction companies linked to the crime families will build cheap houses for small blue or white collard employees (who otherwise have no way to afford a home). Sickening, isn’t it?

At the end of the book, my mouth was dry and tasted bitter. I no longer dreamt of visiting beautiful Naples, because organized crime there seem so pervasive that it seems you can’t buy a bread without giving them money. But I fear that you don’t need to go as far as Naples to find yourself enmeshed with the Camorra branches, illegal or legal. Apparently Scotland is a big base for them, and drug trafficking for whole Europe transits through their hands.

The worse thing is that the leaders of the gang just do it for the sake of personal, unlimited power. It’s not so much the notion of family as I imagined before. They don’t fool themselves to think that police will not stop them at some point, or that other gangs won’t seek revenge, but for some years (if they’re lucky) they will be gods. Otherwise, life is not worth living. The alternative is to toil for crime lords without any hope for a better life. Teenagers in the area think that way, not only boys, but girls too, and this is really frightening. There is no reason to stop the circle of violence.

I translate for you (from the French, not from the original Italian) a part of the very last pages of the book, to give you a glimpse of his style and his heartfelt passion for truth in such a difficult land:

It went on raining. Very soon water had covered the ground that couldn’t absorb anything more. […] I was completely soaked but all the rain that ran on me couldn’t put the burn out, that came from my stomach and radiated up to my head. I wanted to know if human feelings could face a machine so powerful, if there was any way to act, to escape the business, to live outside of the power dynamics. I tortured myself, I tried to understand if there was a chance to understand, to discover, to know, without being eaten up and destroyed. If the choice existed between knowing and accepting the compromise, or ignore and live in peace. Perhaps the only thing left to do was to forget and to look away. To listen to the official version of events, to only half-listen and not to complain. I asked myself if it was possible to be happy or to just put aside any dream of emancipation and absolute freedom before grabbing a gun and to run into the arena, to do some business at last, some real business.

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7 thoughts on “Roberto Saviano, Gomorra (2006)

  1. Emancipation! This, the day after Independence day, I am reading about how others deal with being unfree, isolated due to death threats. I am enduring social, academic and writers’ “death” too, because I dare to write about controversial ideas that make others uncomfortable. I am undergoing the fight with myself to ” put aside any dream of emancipation and absolute freedom? I am trying to be a rogue amateur journalist that conjures up ways “to live outside of(or really before and after) the power dynamics”…”to understand if there was a chance to understand and, to discover, to know without being eaten up and destroyed”. Try telling yourself that they are only PRACTICING carrying out death threats on you, that they are EXPERTS on carrying out death threats on themselves. They have already died: “The criminals have gone to a degree of inhumanity that blows your mind.” I am trying put to put into academic language the following explanation for “crime”: crime commits us, instead of being human we PRACTICE being our social and cultural ROLES (for Camorra,for all of us etc it is immunity from vulnerability, immunity from life to “be” AS IF; we wear or ARE our socially and culturally constructed masks from about the age of 2 or so, and even as victims we “die” socially, culturally constructed “deaths”. Instead of MASTERS of our life and death we are all vicarious vivitars with drama and ego doing our living and our dying FOR us!If any of us had the courage to risk the emotional and physical vulnerability it would take to “live outside(etc.) of the power dynamics” then authentic pesonality might emerge. I have had glimpses of what this true personality is, it is agency, fully present agency, agency that is free from all human arrogance. agency that is free from past and future, a kind of flow. If anyone else has experienced this, let me know. Maybe together we can come up with an intentional community.

  2. Update: I had an epihany. I realize that I have been “speaking” in the “language” of intense desperation, instead of speaking, writing, etc. in a politically correct way. People are fearful of intensity, so I am learning to speak and write AS IF I am middle class. Maybe this will work, maybe I will become more accepted. We will see.

  3. Scuci, but how exactly do you separte feelings and emotions from people being brutally murdered?! I hope I never become so callous! Secondly, as a writer myself, Signore Saviano is correct to express his righteous indignation along with emotion, in his book. In prose, it is an author’s call and perogative to take any stance he choses. In his newspaper columns he had to speak as a more detached, third party. The problem with the whole world is that people do not speak, act, and react with righteous indignation, against all that is evil and repulsive!

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  5. I am frequently scrutenized by my writings, even by my family. There is so much I want to write, but do I have to resort to using an alias, like some romance novelist who is embarassed by her own work?! Think of what Boris Pasturnak, and others living under oppression have endured in order to publish their works. They have paid our dues for us. Regarding Gamorra, Italians and many other European writers are not ashamed to express how they feel through their works. The idea that it is incorrect to inject feelings or principles, is strictly an American paranoia idiocyncracy, and a misconception. It also depends on which person’s viewpoint ones writes from, first person is written from the writer’s viewpoint, or self, second person is in close proximity or can be split, and third person is objective and relative distant. But ulimately, a writer loses their salt and becomes a powerless puppet if they write merely to please others.

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