Roberto Saviano: an Italian dissident

Linked with Roberto Saviano – Italy.

Published on openDemocracy, by Geoff Andrews, oct. 22, 2008.

The phenomenon of the Italian mafia has been depicted by many writers and filmmakers. Roberto Saviano’s book Gomorrah – a gripping, unsentimental expose of the mafia in the southern city of Napoli, first published in May 2006 – is one of the very best. Its literary success, and the great acclaim which the film based on it has received, is also a measure of the Italian public’s serious concern about the corrosion of much of the country’s public life in bleak political times.

Gomorrah is groundbreaking in five respects:

  • it is written by someone brought up in the Casal di Principe neighbourhood of the Casalesi, one of the most violent of the clans making up the Camorra – the mafia in this region of Italy;
  • it is uncompromising in its denunciation of the Camorra’s brutality;
  • it makes clear the global reach of the Camorra, an organisation with business interests now extend across many industries and several continents;
  • it provides a cutting, critical insight into deep-rooted problems in Naples (Napoli) and the inability of the Italian state to address them;
  • it is the most significant  of a growing number of examples in modern Italy of an artist leading the way in challenging power and exposing corruption – by an author still under 30, now facing threats to his life and under twenty-four-hour police protection.


Roberto Saviano’s book fuses the genres of documentary, autobiography and investigative journalism to provide true insight into the nature of a modern business-criminal network. In this it moves decisively beyond the often shallow and anachronistic (even comforting) “Cosa Nostra” portraits of the mafia that still feature prominently in sections of the media. Saviano’s research into the Camorra’s dense inner culture reveals the vast and increasing reach of an agency that accumulates annual revenues of £130 billion …

… Saviano’s deepest affinity, however, may be with the filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who in the 1970s also spoke fearlessly against the dark forces at work in Italy’s “system” of power – which many believe cost him his life (see “The life and death of Pier Paolo Pasolini“, 1 November 2005).

Saviano describes an inspirational visit to Pasolini’s tomb and draws parallels with Italy’s greatest dissident when describing his own predicament:

“The possibility of writing about the mechanisms of power, beyond the stories and details. To reflect on whether it is still possible to name names, one by one, to point out the faces, strip the bodies of their crimes, and reveal them as elements of the architecture of authority. To reflect on whether it is still possible to snuff out, like truffle pigs, the dynamics of the real, the affirmation of power, without metaphors, without mediation, with nothing but the cutting edge of the word.” (full long text).

Link: Also in openDemocracy on new mafia networks:

  • Isabel Hilton, “Álvaro Uribe’s gift: Colombia’s mafia goes legit” (25 October 2005);
  • Ilija Trojanow, “Bulgaria: the mafia’s dance to Europe” (16 August 2006);
  • Zygmunt Dzieciolowski, “New Russia, old Russia” (5 April 2007);
  • Li Datong, “The root of slave labour in China” (26 June 2007);
  • Emmanuelle Bernard, “Guinea-Bissau: drug boom, lost hope” (13 September 2008).

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