Gomorrah – Review


Roberto Saviano China.png

Pan Books (2006 – original publication date), 320 pages

Chapters Bookstore, €1

Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia is an astonishing insight into the brutal world of an Italian mafia.  Gomorrah is also a meditation on violence and the devastating effects of such violence on individuals and Italian society as a whole.  The book looks into the world of the Camorra mafia.  Saviano starts his book by highlighting the economic foundations of southern Italian criminality.  Small illegal factories supply “Made in Italy” designer goods.  A worker, working ten hours a day, might only earn €500-€900 a month.  This is vulture capitalism of the most basic kind.  In order to compete with poorly paid and badly treated workers in China the illegal Italian factories treat their workers equally abysmally.  The Italian fashion houses are complicit in this industry and know that their goods are being produced in illegal factories.  High quality goods (or sometimes not so high quality) that aren’t purchased by the fashion houses find their way into the counterfeit market.  Both the real and fake goods are produced the same way, both are mired in criminality.  If you buy a quality fake handbag you are possibly funding the Camorra but the same could also be said even if you buy a genuine handbag!  The Camorra have moved beyond simply producing goods, they have captured the distribution and retail channels too, “The Secondigliano clans [the Camorra] have acquired entire retail chains, thus spreading their commercial network across the globe and dominating the international clothing market.  They also provide distribution to outlet stores” (p.39).  Like all of the world’s most successful criminal gangs the Camorra have adopted modern business and marketing theories to running their organisation.

While the fashion industry offers a semi-legal way of earning large amounts of money the Camorra are also major players in the illegal drug trade.  Certain areas of Camorra territory in Naples are protected zones where buyers can purchase a wide selection of drugs with a low risk of being arrested.  It is the battle for control of the drugs trade that led to a vicious internecine struggle between Camorra gangs in 2004.  Following the torture and murder of 22 year old Gelsomina Verde the Italian state launched a serious clampdown on the Camorra.  She had been targeted to try and get her to reveal the location of an ex-boyfriend.  Gomorrah’s strength is it’s ability to de-glamorise the mafia image of sharp suits, shiny guns, and beautiful women.  Saviano exposes the Camorra as ultra violent sociopaths whose notions of clan and community are twisted versions of the lives of normal decent people.  Any notions of honour and respect are destroyed by their violent misoginism.  Their gods are money and power at any cost, including their own lives.

Italy has paid a high price for its failure to stop the Camorra’s savagery.  The fight against the Camorra is effectively a paramilitary war with huge numbers of deaths, “Since I was born [1979], 3,600 deaths.  The Camorra have killed more than the Sicilian Mafia, more than the ‘Ndrangheta, more than the Russian Mafia, more than the Albanian families, more than the total number of deaths by ETA in Spain and the IRA in Ireland, more than the Red Brigades, the NAR, and all the massacres committed by the government in Italy” (p.120). Saviano has also paid a high price for his book.  He lives under police guard and as his life is under constant threat from the Camorra.  Interestingly Saviano is not sure if the success of Gomorrah has been worth the destruction of his ability to live a normal life.  The price of freedom of speech is sometimes painfully high for brave people such as Saviano who write fearlessly about the most brutal members of society.


Related Links

Guardian article by Saviano about his life under armed guard


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