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Recently read: Gomorrah

[Originally published at the now defunct group blog explananda.com]

Posted on January 22, 2009
Tags: book_reviews

Roberto Saviano. Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System

Roberto Saviano is in hiding now—that, apparently, is what you get for writing an international bestseller about organized crime in Italy. His Gomorrah is an undeniably brave book, but it also reads as though it were the product of some deep compulsion, as if he sat down and the words poured out of him in a single session, as if he hardly had a choice about whether to write it or not.

Saviano knows his subject intimately, but seems also to have retained the capacity for outrage and shock that you might expect to be diminished by long exposure. His book details the way that the Camorra, the crime organizations around Naples, have wormed their way into just about every facet of the Italian (and frequently, by extension, good parts of the European) economy. It’s hardly surprising to read that the Camorra controls the drug trade, or that it’s heavily involved in an industry like construction. More discomfiting is the news that it is deeply implicated in everything from garbage collection to the world of fashion and clothing to the distribution of consumer goods that illegally slip past customs into the port of Naples from China, and so on and on. For 300 pages Saviano sets out the economic activities of the Camorra, along with the killings and clan wars that have claimed thousands of clan members and innocents alike.

This bitter, disturbing depiction of a society in the firm grip of organized crime leads naturally to the question of how Italy, or any society in a similar predicament, ever manages to escape from such a mess. One of the things that makes Gomorrah such a disturbing book is that Saviano has very little to say about what might be done, so consumed is he simply by the desire to state exactly what he knows as precisely and vividly as possible. But perhaps all the attention recently lavished on the book is, on top of the simple fact of its existence, some modest sign of hope.