Sunday, January 04, 2009

An Interview with Roberto Saviano, Author of "Gomorrah: A Personal Journey Into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System"

Roberto Saviano's life mirrors that of the mobsters who have vowed to kill him: He has gone into hiding, even from his neighbors.

Saviano, 29, is the author who fingered the Camorra Mafia in a bestseller. Last year, Italian police learned of what they call a credible plan to murder him.

The reason: His book "Gomorrah: A Personal Journey Into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System," drew attention to the crime bosses of the Campania region and its capital, Naples. "Gomorrah" has sold almost 2 million copies in 33 countries; the U.S. edition, translated by Virginia Jewiss, has just been published in paperback (Picador, $15). A movie based on the book captured the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and has been nominated for a Golden Globe.

Sitting in a brown-leather armchair in his publisher's office in Rome, Saviano discusses his plans for a new book and his life in isolation under armed guard. His crown is bald; black stubble covers his jaw. He wears three silver rings, a local custom symbolizing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. His security detail waits in two dark sedans outside.

Can you describe your life on a typical day?

I've lived with five bodyguards and two armored cars for two years. I don't have a home, and that's the hardest part. People won't rent a house to me because they're afraid.

There's a horribly negative opinion of me in Campania and in southern Italy. Many think I defamed their territory and drove away tourists. When a landlord rented me one place, the neighbors forced me to leave. Now I live in a house where I have to hide. I return home in the evenings after setting out early in the morning. I'm living as if I were a fugitive - as if I committed some crime.

I've read in court documents how Mafia fugitives cope with this life. When things are really bad, I pile all the furniture in the center of the room and run laps. I learned that from them.

Are friends able to visit you?

Sometimes. When I'm in Naples, I often stay in the military-police barracks. It's hard to have people over when I stay there. In Rome, people visit me, but it's difficult. I'm trying to reconstruct my life. I dream of starting a family.

Is there a greater danger of Mafia infiltration of the economy now, during the financial crisis?

During a crisis, people lower their guard. Studies show that two markets never suffer during a crisis: the criminal market and the art market. I'm convinced that this crisis is bringing huge advantages to criminal syndicates.

Organized crime is a capitalist force that is restructuring the free market. European authorities will notice what criminal capital is doing only when it's too late. Not just capital coming from Italy, but also from Serbia, Russia, Albania and Nigeria. Several investigations demonstrate that criminal cartels are investing in Romania, in Poland. They're buying sovereign bonds. Half of Europe is already in their hands.

Will the whole world start looking like the bleak Naples suburb seen in the movie?

My intention wasn't to tell the story of Naples to the world, but to tell the story of the world through Naples. The screenwriters were careful not to create just a slice of Naples. If you didn't know the film was set in Italy, you might think it shot in Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, the suburbs of Istanbul or parts of Spain and Greece.

The movie and the book are very different.

The big difference between the movie and the book is that I'm obsessed with money and with telling the story of the economic network, while the director is obsessed with the faces, the environment. But the stench of money is missing. The movie didn't betray the book; it simply took a different path.

Will your next book be about organized crime?

I think so, though not about Italy's or not only about Italy's, definitely not about the Camorra. I'm studying the Mexican and African crime syndicates.

Thanks to Steve Scherer

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