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.