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Gangsters go global
The Mafia in Naples
Jan 10th 2008
CONVENTIONAL wisdom has it that Italy's economy is failing, in part because it cannot produce corporations big enough to compete internationally. “ Gomorrah” is a useful corrective to that view.
Roberto Saviano demonstrates that the Camorra, the Naples Mafia which provides the word-play for his book's title, is doing just fine in the globalised economy. Once a web of mobsters whose most international activity was
smuggling cigarettes, the Camorra eases uninspected Chinese goods into Europe and provides loans at usurious rates to the sweatshops that produce many of the elegant garments Italy sells abroad. It imports arms from eastern Europe and exports them to Basque guerrillas. Its various clans launder money through businesses scattered from Taiwan to Brno, from Miami Beach, Florida, to Five Dock, New South Wales.
Mr Saviano believes in smelling “the hot breath of reality”. By getting to the scene of killings before the police have a chance to clear away the gore, by riding his scooter for hours round the open-air drug supermarket in Secondigliano, even talking to young Camorra recruits, he has produced one of the most enthralling and disturbing books written on organised crime. He takes his readers to a world where teenage gangsters are inducted by being shot at in bulletproof vests; where the female bodyguards of a woman mobster wear sunglasses and T-shirts of the same yellow as Uma Thurman's outfit in the film “Kill Bill”. He describes the “submarines”—so-called because of their invisibility—who run the Camorra's extensive welfare system. And he records a telephone conversation in which two mobsters calmly discuss the date for a torture session.
It is as close to the Camorra as most readers will want to get. By going there himself, Mr Saviano has written a book that has so far sold 750,000 copies in Italy alone. He has also earned himself death threats and a round-the-clock police escort. Like a lot of young Italians (he is 28) brought up on an intellectual diet of Catholicism and Marxism, he sees liberalism as more of a threat than an opportunity. “The logic of criminal business coincides with the most aggressive neoliberalism,” he claims. But it doesn't. Liberalism aspires to free competition; gangsters build cartels.
Occasionally, too, Mr Saviano's passion can lead him to assertions that are more convenient than proven. He claims primacy for the Camorra among Italy's five Mafias. Few policemen or prosecutors would concur; most believe that the Calabrian version is even more dangerous. The author's style is a little rich for easy digestion and the translation is over-literal.
But the great value of “ Gomorrah” is to highlight two points: the power and wealth that southern Italy's Mafias have accumulated in recent years, and the fact that their globalisation makes them an issue of concern for us all. His description of the effects of gang war on ordinary people (“Women stop wearing high heels—too hard to run in them”) is masterly. His final chapter, set in the apocalyptic wilderness of the Camorra's smouldering waste dumps, is inspired—and prescient, as the garbage crisis in Naples unfolds.
Gomorrah : A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System.
By Roberto Saviano. Translated by Virginia Jewiss.
Source: The Economist