This is a very powerful non-fiction book written by vigilante journalist, Roberto Saviano. Saviano grew up in Secondigliano, a rundown of 10,000 inhabitants on the fringe of Naples, Italy, of which close to a quarter of its residents are incarcerated for mafia and camorra related activities and the rest have simply been abandoned to their fate. It is also the trading centre through which about 80% of Europe’s cocaine is filtered through, packaged, distributed, marketed, cut, and sold on.
The subject of the book – the Camorra is a mafia-like criminal organisation, or secret society, originating in the region of Campania and the city of Naples in Italy. It finances itself through drug trafficking, extortion, protection and racketeering and its activities have led to high levels of homicide in the areas in which it operates. It is the oldest organized criminal organization in Italy.
To gather information for his book, Saviano worked undercover at tremendous personal risk in his native city in Camorra-controlled factories, construction sites and even as a waiter at a mob wedding. He recalls seeing his first murder when he was fourteen, and how his father, a doctor, suffered a brutal beating for trying to aid an 18-year-old victim who had been left to die in the street.
The book is an arresting read which I finished in one sitting. Through his extensive research, Saviano lay out in his book, page after page, the far and encompassing reach of the Camorra’s economic, social and political influence throughout Italy, even to the world. From pirated high fashion to artificially low priced factory exports to illegal waste disposal to cranked-up construction jobs to cocaine to high level political corruptions… the Camorra stops at nothing and is involved with practically every money making businesses in Italy. They are like cancer cells in the heart of Italy that is impossible to weed out. Like the Sicilian Mafia , the Camorra is part of the Italian economic, social and political system and is quintessential for the system to function. The further you read, the more blurred the divisional line between good and evil becomes.
The book was first published in Italian in 2006, under the title, Gomorra. Following the book’s success, Saviano has been threatened by several Neapolitan “godfathers”. His crime, is to have published a book that digs too deep into their outlaw world, naming names, spelling out criminal structures and their ways of working. As a result, the Italian Minister of the Interior, Giuliano Amato has granted him a permanent police escort.
Since then, Gomorrah been translated in 42 countries. It appeared in the best sellers’ lists of Germany, Holland, Spain, France, Sweden and Finland. The New York Times has placed it amongst the most important books of 2007, while The Economist has included it among the hundred books of the year. Saviano is the only Italian to be placed in both lists. The book has also won numerous literature awards and book prizes, while enjoying commercial success.
All this is not without a price.
Just a few months back, Camorra was reported as having threatened to kill Saviano by Christmas; in the same period, Saviano announced his decision to leave Italy, in order to stop having to live as a convict and reclaim his life.
Gomorrah has also been made into a film. Directed by Matteo Garrone who is also the screenwriter, the film is the Grand Prix winner at the Cannes Film Festival 2008. Here’s the link to the official move site. I hope the cinema operators in Singapore will bring it in for local screening. The trailer is available below via youtube:
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