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I read it in four days. 5 Stars for courage: He broke the silence
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.