Robert Saviano’s Gomorrah - Italy’s Other Mafia is a flawed but important book. The first third of Saviano’s investigative research into the mechanics of the Italian transnational criminal organisation (TCO), Camorra, is excellent, unpacking what Camorra calls “The System”, a thoroughly organised criminal group with a paramilitary branch to enforce terror when needed. It tentacles like reach into human trafficking, contraband and the fashion industry in Europe is brought life as Saviano shows how all the leading fashion houses of Milan operate with the Camorra and Chinese syndicates to produce their expensive designer products. His investigative, under-cover journalism came out at a cost, forcing him to seek permanent police protection. The eventual secession of Camorra into warring cliques ignited a gang war in southern Italy which killed more people then The Troubles in Ireland, involving torture, assassinations by pistol and burning bodies of victims in the suburbs of Naples.
Hits on family members and girlfriends associated with Camorra foot soldiers are heart-wrenching as Saviano brings to the life the consequences of living under gang-rule and the implications of politicians neglecting poverty stricken urban areas in southern Italy. The tension of checkpoints and navigating a twisted, corrupt environment where children are foot-soldiers and drug-dealers and the Camorra TCO use homeless men and women and people addicted to drugs as ‘guinea pigs’ to test new drugs (killing many of them) is both depressing and harrowing. The resentment of the Neapolitan communities towards government and police/security forces for neglecting the destitution and slums of Naples are expressed in riots and Camorra’s vicious violence towards those who aid those combating the ‘War on Drugs’ and their transnational crime ‘system’.
However, descriptions and writing style are at times gratuitous, lurid and unnecessary. The main criticism directed at the book is, at times, its inaccessibility. There are far too many names, as supposed to characters, and not enough context provided to understand the nature of the Italian transnational criminal organisation and tie together all the different elements at work in the country’s criminal underworld. It is uneven as the author meanders, and is sometimes unfocused in the final third of the book. His other major book, Zero. Zero. Zero. is much more coherent and structured. This part polemic, part investigation by Saviano sheds critical light on the activities of transnational organised crime, and the model adopted by Camorra’s “System” is one that we should rightfully fear, and ultimately have the courage to challenge. Saviano’s decision to square up to Camorra has cost him his old life and we should be grateful for his sacrifices to expose such corruption, impunity and violence.
A flawed but insightful investigation into the structure of Camorra’s criminal empire . To understand Camorra is to understand the toxic dynamics of modern capitalism represented not only in their vice grip on the drug trade in southern Italy, but in their diversification into clothing, human trafficking and arms smuggling. The lines of legal and illegal commerce are blurred in this dank, corrupt world of this brutal Italian TCO. ‘The System’ of Camorra is one built on crime and suffering, best exemplified by the Secondigliano War where torture, poverty, environmental destruction and death on communities in Neapolitan Italy and across the world. The poor translation, lack of structure and little context provided to the Italian mafia will frustrate and put-off many British readers.