Customer Reviews: Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System
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on February 29, 2008
If you have been to Italy, surely you have seen people who sell counterfeit goods on the street: Prada purses, Gucci belt, Armani wallet, pirated CD and DVD, etc. Surprisingly, most of them are not made in China, but in underground factories in Naples, the same type of factories that makes dresses for Hollywood stars. This is however, only the beginning of the story. This is a story of the underground economy of Naples, the desperation of its society and underclass, and the exploitation by the sophisticated yet short sighted criminals. The tales are not unlike those of the underground economy of New York and Chicago, but southern Italian style.

With my busy schedule running a business, these days it's hard for me to take some time and read a book in a short time. However, this book was so compelling I finished it in four days.

There are three big criminal organizations in Italy: Cosa Costra (commonly known as Mafia) from Sicily, Ngrangheta of Calabria, and the Camorra of Campania. This book is about the camorra.

First, to answer one of the reviewers from Australia who didn't understand why the author is under 24-hour police protection: This is not the first book written about the camorra or the mafia, in Italy or abroad. However, his story telling style was compelling enough to make the book a best seller in Italy and abroad. This brought to light the dirty and dark secrets of the criminal underworld in a concrete term - something you can identify with (do they control what you eat?), it infuriates you and something you react strongly. It's not just about talking about the camorra in abstract terms, but to name names, name places, and describe in vivid details about the people, their "businesses", and places. So the public realize the extent of the problem and how it affects the smallest things like milk and cookie delivery to cancer rates.

Organized crime societies thrive on secrecy and silence; there is a term for silence among the camorra: "omerta". If no one speaks about it and carry on with his life, or speaks about it in an abstract term like "oh it's the mafia what can I do about it?" then the camorra carries on their activities. However, with the amount of attention the author brought, especially attention to details, angered the criminals because the public gets a real view of how the system functions and is lubricated. Hence they want the author dead. He broke the code of "omerta". That's why police protection is assigned to him.

Remember, if you dare to speak up against their interest, they dare to silence you in the most callous way - school teacher, shop owner, ex-member, judge, lawyer, politicians, it doesn't matter. The book shows that while claiming to be Catholics, the Camorra is even willing to take the life of a priest.

To the other reader who said that the author was trying to make money, I doubt the author made enough money to be worth of numerous death threats and constant police protection.

I lived in that region. In fact, where I lived had its government dissolved more times than any other places in Italy due to mafia infiltration. I have seen around here urban planning disaster, environmental disaster, and cultural disaster. While the region of Campania has some beautiful parts, it is not far fetched to say it's a third world country within a major EU country.

This book explores many subjects that I have witnessed with my own eyes: the annual garbage crisis where you can't even walk on the sidewalk, and the hoodlums and idiots who set the trashes on fire to worsen the crisis; the store that was burned down because the owner was courageous and refuse to pay the Camorra a "protection" fee; the unjustifiable number of supermarkets and shopping centers in a region where the economy at the bottom.

I have been to Pozzuoli, dined in Quatieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarter), and it's true, many of these towns are a mess. This book helped to see what the towns are the way they are, beyond the aesthetical aspect. I didn't know about the open drug market where the Camorra test new drug on buyers to see if they die to determine the right mix. The economy is in the drain, but new shopping centers keep popping up. Will those women who tried to kill each other with guns live long enough to shop there?
For the young men, is it a choice among a low-paying dead end job, constant unemployment and becoming someone "important" by joining the Camorra? "For many women, marrying a Camorrista is like receiving a loan or acquiring capital. If that capital will bear fruit and the women will become entrepreneurs, managers, or generals' wives, wielding unlimited power." (P.141)

This book should be a wake up call to all the people of Campania, Italians and an alarm for the rest of us. It shows if the social and economic situation in a community is dire, and when the legitimate system is weak and severely flawed, even a small group of people, with their selfish and corruptible nature, can easily turn life into hell for the majority. You don't have to have even visited Italy to appreciate this book. Civil society is fragile and this book shows how hard it is to get rid a social cancer once its takes root.

Camorra thrives because the State has failed its citizens; it provides opportunities and illusions of power and wealth. To quote the book "The system at least grants the illusion that commitment will be recognized, that it's possible to make a career. An affiliate will never be seen as an errand boy, and girls will never feel they are being courted by a failure" (P. 109, The Secondigliano War)

I also recommend "See Naples and Die: Camorra and Organized Crime" and "Excellent Cadavers" to get a better look at the history of Camorra and Cosa Nostra (Silician Mafia) and a broader political perspective to understand the State and the mafia have at many times different sides of the same coin who needs each other to thrive.
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on November 20, 2007
This book is an extremely engrossing read about the real world of high stakes organized crime operating in and out of Italy today. It will have tremendous appeal to real life crime fighters and mob aficionados across the world, not to mention anyone with generational ties to Italy as a homeland. Well written and extremely informative, it engages the reader in a tell-all approach of the extensive world wide implications of organized crime originating in and out of Naples today. Graphic and disturbing, it gives factual details only an `insider' would have access to. Particularly fascinating is the increasingly large part women play in the leading role of organized family clans. `The Godmother', if you will. One could only imagine a blockbuster film coming out of this information. This reader would have preferred more details about how the writer actually infiltrated `The System' but perhaps that will be a follow up to this amazing read.
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on December 10, 2007
Gomorrah is not a compilation of news clippings on the subject of the Mafia or better the Camorra.
It's the result of years of heroic work by a young writer that has devoted himself to the understanding of the criminal world that developed in the area around Naples .
The scope and range of the illegal activities are world wide and control the world of fashion, construction, drugs, food, toxic waste, and almost any form of commercial endeavor. The message is a portent of things to come where the claws have not reached yet. The courage of the writer has put him in life danger for the rest of his life and and under constant police protection. The valor of his pen is as great as the beauty of his prose. I can not recall any book that has moved me so deeply in a long time. The story is not only a requiem for the Italian nation but also
a heads up for the rest of the world where the connections with the Italian Camorra are blossoming: that is China, Australia, Central and South America, Africa and obviously the US.
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on November 4, 2007
Behold here an unfashionable and stirring book. The pages drip with the residue of disfiguring communications left by hitmen on the lifeless bodies of their victims. I do not go in for glamorized violence and I do not watch movies with guns. Still, I turned pages of this grisly book because its message is both fascinating and urgent. The scores of deaths described are countable but only a partial number. What waste. The mafia clans of Campania, whose fractions divide business by terror, account for the fear they inspire with their omnipresent success. It is bizarre to read of this smothering and ultimately corrupting system that renovates, enriches and destroys as it spreads.

A marginal insider, Savinio here unloads the weight of his learning and the roar of his disillusionment. His book puts to pasture the works that would try to rival it as discourses or discoveries on the nature of power in society. Fans of Foucault have no idea what power is about until they have read this book. The same goes for the armchair aficionado of corporate monopoly. Much of the information Savinio relates he has gathered as an inhabitant or curious, casual employee of the clans that run Italy from the graced and volatile realm of Campania.

The first chapter on the port of Naples is likely to unsettle anyone who lives near a port of entry by sea, as it shows how illegal goods make it from sea to secrecy and to the market. The chapter called "Cement" demonstrates the relationship between contractors, bids, bias and regional economy. These two chapters alone seem to be stunning achievements. The final chapter treats the horrifying management and crippling dispersion of toxins through land, sea and air for the sake of immediate profit. There are chapters that address the subjects of women, religion, fashion, film and clan supremacy.

Saviano sheds light not on numbers and accounts but on names and traces. In the face of such an overwhelming and entrenched corruption the only power a writer or citizen can exercise in behalf of the common good is to name the names. Those who speak the truth run mortal risk but only the brave who take up that risk protect the multitude from fear, abuse, and destruction. I commend the inspiring bravery of this author and the skill with which he unwinds the horrors of our twisted realm.
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on May 23, 2008
Gomorrah is a horrific first-person account of the activities of the Camorra, the Naples based organized crime system. This book would not have been written quite this way in America. Absent are formal interviews and investigations. The prose is florid and overwrought. The operation of the port of Naples is described: `... the anus of the sea were opening out, causing great pain to the sphincter muscles' [page 6]. I do not know if this has something to do with the original Italian style. Saviano writes with indignation palpable in each sentence. Once the reader gets used to the style, the picture of life in the depressed Naples hinterland is horrific. It appears that there is no legitimate way to earn a living either at the subsistence level as a laborer or at the other extreme as an entrepreneur, without breaking the law. The criminalization of day to day economic activity explains the ubiquity of the Camorra. The root of the problem appears to be political. In the presence of stifling regulation and in the absence of good governance crime families rule in a feudal fashion, making profits that could have gone to legitimate businessmen. Saviano does not fully come out and say this. One senses his disapproval of market forces and capitalism.

Readers familiar with the garbage collection woes of Naples from the international sections of newspapers will learn the underlying cause of the problem. While there is no legitimate place to dispose Naples' garbage, refuse from as far away as Milan is illegally dumped in the environs generating enormous profits for organized crime.

The primary emotion of shooting victims is not pain or anger but humiliation. Victims of mob hits are allowed to die in the streets without help, for fear that the killers will punish anyone who comes to their aid. Saviano describes an episode from his own father's life. His father was a doctor who accompanied an ambulance to the scene of a mob hit. The victim was still alive. He was advised by his nurse to wait till he died, before taking him to the hospital. Saviano's father failed to heed the advice and was beaten up in his home.

The book is somewhat haphazardly put together without a clear time-line. It contains a Homeric compendium of characters, the killed and the killers, most of who are of interest only to those who actually knew them. Perhaps that is how this book should be seen. Not as the result of a sober investigation, but as an epic account of a raging war. One with no end in sight.
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on November 20, 2007
"A feel-good mafia exposé? The author gives an insider's view of a monstrous system that is all the more disquieting because you're in there with him. Besides the titillation of so much blood and excess, what kept me reading was the intelligence and heart in the work. The tone sounds raw and cynical but it isn't without occasional touches of poetry and sentimentalism. The author never stayed in one mode long enough to get tiresome. I was shocked by what this book had to say. I don't know if I was convinced by the litany of the names and places or if I just sympathized with a good writer. His heart's in the right place. I hope it's still beating somewhere." --Bill (Louisville, KY)
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on August 21, 2008
In America, we've almost romanticized the gangster lifestyle with depictions like those in the Godfather movies, Goodfellas, and the Sopranos. The diminished public presence of the American mafia has probably allowed us to forget the dark, violent gears that allow these machines to run. In this book, Roberto Saviano vividly describes the workings and rivalries of the Naples area, a place where crime families have nearly crippled the city.

When you begin reading this, it is evident that some of the translation from Italian to English did not come through clearly. Some of Saviano's metaphors and similies come across as downright odd, but blame this on the difference of the languages rather than the author or the translator. The book jumps around to different topics in a seemingly random way. Nonetheless Saviano's writing is clear enough to show just how horrifying and violent these criminal endeavors can be.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in organized crime nonfiction. We're saturated with fictional stories of the mafia, and it's truly striking to hear these real-life accounts of extreme violence and corruption. An interesting book all around, never feeling tedious despite the oddities of translation.
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on February 27, 2008
I was taken in by this book from the first pages and stayed with it for the whole day until I had completed it. I found this an easy read and yet at times most disturbing. I have visited the region around Naples and am familiar with the Italian culture, but I was in no way ready for the absolute corruption that this books exposes. I knew the governments of Italy were and are inept, but to the degree shown in this book almost makes me worry about how involved the governments are with the local "mafias". The personal and up close picture that is presented is vivid and clear. It was well written and well presented and is more of a personal tragedy than a national tragedy, yet it is really both. Read this and know what corruption is, then let us help by not participating in the process.
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VINE VOICEon April 26, 2008
This is a worrisome portrait of the extra-legal underworld centered in and around Naples. It is run by "clans" that are much larger, more ruthless, more sophisticated and more international than the American style Mafia family. These clans compete with each other for market share in drugs, hazardous waste, high fashion, arms and anything else they choose.

The prose is absolutely wonderful. Well chosen words provide description of people, life and feelings in a way you ususally don't find in investigative journalism. Both the author and translator deserve credit because this high level of prose is maintained throughout. On pp. 214-5 there is a beautiful rumination on concrete. Phrases, "secrets in the bowels of the economy, sealed in a pancreas of silence" and "micro-criminal excrescence nourished in movies" demonstrate that the prose originates with Saviano.

Organizationally, the book is not 5 stars. It seems like these are loosely tied together articles. It is not clear how the opening part about fashion, shipping and the Chinese ties up with the rest of it. Even within the chapters there are a lot of unfinished vignettes and some come out of nowhere. For instance, Anna Vollero's minute of fame on p. 147, or the mention of local governments "dissolving" which is not explained. Does this mean the schools close? The police get laid off? There is an isolated but interesting piece on Mikhail Kalishnikov, who's invention has helped to make this all possible.

I feel like I received an education on the reach of organized crime in Italy. I knew nothing of the Aberdeen connection and little of the Sparticus trial. Some of the stories, for instance about the 14 year old recruits training with body armor are chilling.

Last year I read The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken Over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi which described how the government operates. Berlusconi inspired laws, enabling the accused to chose their own prosecutor and laws whereby a witness is not compelled to testify do not help in bringing an end to this scourge.

The dedicated police, prosecutors and press of Italy seem to labor in the shadows. Their lives and families are in danger, but they persist. This unheralded group deserves the respect and support of the world, if only in self interest as witness to the hazardous waste tsunami's can bring to their shores.
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on June 8, 2014
This book is more of an outcry than a document or anything really. 80% of the content are lists of cities/places/names/murders/philosophizing/quoting-smart-people/whining and jumping from topic to topic - book structure is a stream of consciousness of a frustrated observer. You won't learn much about the structure or practices of camorra, except that they are ruthless and murder anyone they want and control everything (what a surprise). Just when I was really fed up there was the last chapter - which actually had everything I wanted - it describes how and why camorra makes money on "waste management" and the effect it has on Italian economy, health and ecology. Sadly this book is just too bloated and lacks focus.
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