Friday, 17 March 2017

Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano

Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, translated from the Italian by Virginia Jewiss

London: Macmillan, 2007             ISBN 9780230703674

This book is a personal cry of rage, a fulfilment of a vendetta in words. After 300 pages of clinical and highly readable description of how the Camorra not only kill, but corrupt and pollute Italy's land and people, Roberto Saviano screams "Hey, you bastards, I'm still here!".

While it is the Mafia that have received most of the press over the years, it is the Camorra that was the most active criminal entity in Italy in the ten years before Saviano wrote this book. A native of Naples, Saviano finds himself drawn to document not only the activities of the Camorra, but it's effect on his hometown and its people.

He describes in detail how the Camorra clans became involved not only in drugs, illegal rubbish dumping and counterfeit fashion: he shows us that they also engage in "legitimate" business - the same sweatshops that produce the counterfeits also make the real stuff! The clans get these legitimate contracts via criminal means, by forcing competitors out of business or often by controlling the logistics chain so that they can do things more cheaply than anyone else.

Saviano makes clear through the book how young men (and women) get drawn into the clans: "These same regions [Campania, Sicily, Calabria] head the list for the largest criminal associations, the highest unemployment rate, and the greatest number of volunteers for the military and the police forces." The feeling of power that comes with being a member of a clan is something, even if it is often also a death sentence.

And what of Camorra power? Saviano notes that no clan lasts as a power for more than ten years or so; they either get destroyed by the police, or a beaten in a war by another clan. Often the capos spend their lives on the run or in hiding, so they rarely get to enjoy the massive amounts of cash they generate. It is the power, the respect they get from their position , that is the most important to them. In Campania, to be a Camorrista is to be someone, On several occasions in this book, Saviano is asked by people he knows why he doesn't join the clans, as his intelligence would be an asset - there is no moral difference to some local people between the clans and other professions.

As in the rest of Southern Italy, what people say, who they say it to, and how it is said is important. Saviano shows us how the Camorra uses murder to besmirch innocent people, and people who speak out against the clans - if someone is executed by a clan the automatic inference is that they must have been guilty of something. So not only are the clans omnipotent, they are infallible.

Saviano's rage, like the rage of most people who are opposed to Italian organised crime, is also directed at the government, which, time and time again, fails in its duty to the people. Quite often this is because those in government are part of, or compromised by, the Camorra. There seems to be no way to permanently break this nexus of evil.

Gomorrah was a bestseller in its native land, and across the World. While it shone a light on the inner workings of the Camorra, it did little to change what goes on. Saviano became a marked man, and has lived under police protection since he wrote this book.

As an armchair consumer of books on Italian organised crime, I can recommend Gomorrah as an excellent work, and well worth reading.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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