Sober­ing view of the ra­pa­cious curse of un­der­world Naples

Go­mor­rah By Roberto Sa­viano Macmil­lan, 301pp, $ 35

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Des­mond O’Grady

IN the im­me­di­ate post- war years, neo- re­al­ist films con­veyed Ital­ian life more graph­i­cally than its writ­ers did. Nor were Ital­ian writ­ers equal to por­tray­ing the hor­rors of the ter­ror­ist 1970s: the best poem on the kid­nap­ping and killing of ex- prime min­is­ter Aldo Moro was by a New Zealan­der, Alan Curnow. But in Go­mor­rah Roberto Sa­viano has cap­tured more ef­fec­tively than any film the Neapoli­tan un­der­world, the Camorra and its trans­for­ma­tions.

Re­cently the com­bined ef­fect of the Camorra and in­ept gov­ern­ment has been brought to the world’s at­ten­tion through news footage of the stink­ing, un­col­lected rub­bish clog­ging Neapoli­tan streets. It is a source of toxic ef­flu­via, giv­ing a sin­is­ter mean­ing to the phrase ‘‘ see Naples and die’’, coined be­cause of the city’s beauty.

Sa­viano trav­elled with stake­hold­ers, the mid­dle­men who tell north­ern Ital­ian man­u­fac­tur­ers where they can dump in­dus­trial waste in Neapoli­tan tips or dis­pose of them as land­fill, but also ar­range the prof­itable trans­port of the re­gion’s waste to­wards Ger­man in­cin­er­a­tors.

The stake­hold­ers’ suc­cess means that farm­ers plough­ing fields for cauliflow­ers can come across buried bales of shred­ded ban­knotes leach­ing lead. Leak­age from il­licit waste threat­ens all crops and also moz­zarella cheese made from the milk of buf­fa­los. Can­cer cases have in­creased.

Sa­viano, a phi­los­o­phy grad­u­ate and jour­nal­ist, not only ac­com­pa­nied stake­hold­ers but worked with lo­cal Chi­nese smug­gling goods into Naples; ar­rived on his Vespa to see as­sas­si­nated peo­ple be­fore they were car­ried away; talked with ado­les­cent fans of the crim­i­nals and hob­nobbed

with work­ers in clan­des­tine Camorra- linked fac­to­ries who, for j600 ($ 963) a month, make clothes for the Ital­ian fash­ion houses.

He sup­ple­ments his first- hand knowl­edge with ma­te­rial from po­lice re­ports and trial ev­i­dence to build a pic­ture of the Camorra, which reaps huge prof­its from drug traf­fic, ex­tor­tion, clothes man­u­fac­ture, pub­lic works con­tracts, hospi­tal man­age­ment, tourism and waste dis­posal.

He is fas­ci­nated by the dy­nam­ics of Camorra power as an ex­am­ple of raw cap­i­tal­ism adapt­ing swiftly to mar­kets and avoid­ing the slug­gish bu­reau­cracy. The younger bosses are of­ten univer­sity grad­u­ates who use their le­gal and fi­nan­cial knowl­edge to ex­pand the crim­i­nal in­flu­ence to all con­ti­nents in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, if Sa­viano is to be be­lieved when he men­tions an un­named Five Dock cloth­ing bou­tique as one of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Syd­ney out­lets.

Whereas the tra­di­tional stand- over rack­ets were sim­ply par­a­sitic, newer ac­tiv­i­ties can stim­u­late the econ­omy. The Camorra has evolved from man­u­fac­tur­ing clothes cheaply for big brand names to cre­at­ing its own brands, which sell world­wide. Sa­viano cites the ef­fi­cient open- air drug su­per­mar­kets on the out­skirts of Naples where drug deal­ing is democra­tised: clean­skin lo­cals are paid to store drugs and can in­vest in the lu­cra­tive drug mar­ket. It some­times en­ables pen­sion­ers to sur­vive and stu­dents to com­plete a de­gree, per­haps in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Sa­viano claims the prof­its by north­ern in­dus­tries that used the Camorra’s il­le­gal waste dis­posal net­work were es­sen­tial for Italy’s en­try into the Euro­pean Union, and that Neapoli­tan camor­risti work­ing in Aberdeen Scot­land, per­haps legally, have re­ju­ve­nated its tourist in­dus­try.

The Camorra man­agers are also killers. Sa­viano names al­leged crim­i­nals still at large and he has also de­nounced mob­sters in a speech in one of their strongholds. Poet- film­maker Pier Paolo Pa­solini and a priest, Pep­pino Diana, in­spired him. Pa­solini de­nounced so­cial ills while Diana at­tempted to unite the in­hab­i­tants of his home town against the dom­i­nant Camorra.

Sa­viano took the ti­tle of his book, a play on Camorra, from Diana’s use of the bib­li­cal Sodom and Go­mor­rah dur­ing a blis­ter­ing at­tack on the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Two camor­risti shot Diana as he pre­pared for mass one morn­ing. For fear that a sim­i­lar fate awaits Sa­viano, he has been given a po­lice es­cort and moved to an un­known lo­ca­tion.

The cen­tre­piece is his de­tailed de­scrip­tion of the clan war in 1994- 95 for con­trol of Se­condigliano on the out­skirts of Naples in which about 250 peo­ple died. Sa­viano cal­cu­lates that since his birth in 1979 there have been 3500 Camorra killings. He ends this chap­ter with a de­scrip­tion of a Se­condigliano feast for a Camorra vic­tim who came out of a long coma.

A neat con­trast to the Grand Guig­nol of the clan war are his ob­ser­va­tions about cin­ema in­flu­ence: un­til ar­rested, one boss lived in a replica of the villa of the Mi­ami Cuban mob­ster Tony Mon­tana in Scar­face , one of the films, along with The God­fa­ther , Good­fel­las and Don­nie Brasco , whose crim­i­nals are taken as style mod­els. There are fe­male camor­risti body­guards who dress in the flo­res­cent yel­low of Uma Thur­man’s mo­tor­cy­cle out­fit in Kill Bill .

It is grip­ping but sober­ing read­ing, es­pe­cially as, in the past 18 years, more than 70 mu­nic­i­pal ad­min­is­tra­tions in the Neapoli­tan re­gion have been dis­solved be­cause of Camorra in­fil­tra­tion. But hope is sus­tained by the fact that Diana’s name is com­mem­o­rated in a se­questered boss’s villa that is now a home for fos­ter chil­dren; in the dogged work of mag­is­trates and po­lice; and in peo­ple such as Sa­viano who be­lieve the Camorra can buy ev­ery­thing but truth. Des­mondO’Grady is an Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist who lives in Rome. His latest novel is Dinny Go­ing Down.

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