The mafia, and in this case the Camorra, avoids the spotlight at all costs. Crime syndicates want no attention on their methods and activities. And on their names. But that is exactly what Roberto Saviano did in his first book, “Gomorrah,” which also became a blockbuster movie and a television series. He exposed the violent, corrupt, and dark side of Naples. And he named names.
Today Roberto Saviano is guarded around the clock. He moves from house to house, and he sleeps in the police station when he is in Naples, the only safe place in his native city. The New York Timespublished a portrait of the writer in August 2018; the interviewer accompanied him in an armored vehicle, sirens screeching, on the A1 from Rome to Naples.
“Gomorrah,” along with Saviano’s second book, “ZeroZeroZero,” which is about the cocaine trade in Naples, are based on exhaustive research. They have been both lauded and criticized as “nonfiction novels” or “docufiction” because of their style and literary license. Now Mr. Saviano has written his first conventional novel called in English “The Piranhas” and in Italian “La Paranza Dei Bambini” or“The Fishing Trawler of Children.” Like his previous works, this is based on extensive investigation. Unlike his others, this one presents fictional events and invented names. But it still presents the underworld of Naples and still allows him to explore his themes and to promote his messages.
But that won’t assuage his underworld enemies. Reflecting on his life since “Gomorrah,” he tells The New York Times:“I made the same mistake as soldiers who go to war voluntarily…. When a soldier goes to war he thinks, ‘Either I get killed or I come back.’ That’s a mistake. Because when you return, you’ve lost your legs. You have hepatitis. You don’t sleep…. I’m neither dead nor alive. They didn’t kill me. But they haven’t let me live.”
Ironically, Saviano shares many traits with the Camorra besides a view of the beautiful Bay of Naples under the threatening rise of Mount Vesuvius. They are both rich and ambitious, have a common interest in violence, and aren’t afraid to die. “I certainly don’t want to die,” he told the newspaper, “but I hate the Camorra more than anything because they ruined my country.” Vengeance is another shared trait: “I don’t deny I have a feeling of vengeance against them,” he said.
Saviano has taken on more than the Camorra. He has criticized Italy’s new populist government, government corruption, and deals between politicians and the mob. He is highly incensed by the new government’s stance on immigration … posting a picture of dead people floating in the Mediterranean. Saying “the hatred you have sown will overthrow you,” Saviano has enraged Matteo Salvini, the right-wing, anti-migrant deputy prime minister, who has threatened to sue Saviano and remove his state-supported escort.
But Saviano is not afraid to face controversy. “It’s my karma,” he said. “I go from trouble to trouble.” His next novel, “Bacio Feroce,” or “Fierce Kiss,” is already selling well in Italy and will be available in English in 2020.