Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano

I picked it up expecting an Italian version of Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese, a book remarkable for many reasons, but perhaps none more so than its power to draw us into the personal life of one mafiaso as the prominence of his family fades.  And I thought it might surpass the Talese book because all the press surrounding it made it appear as though it were an insider’s account of the Naples’ organized crime system.  Whereas Talese was silent on violence–he stayed within the confines of mafia domesticity–I had hoped Saviano would use the whole canvass.  Violence and drama. Everything that made the Wire successful.  But contrary to the hype, the book reads like a report written by a gentleman with a seat high up in the grandstand, far away from the emotional core of the story.  Yes, Saviano is effective at creating a sense of fear and atrocity, but it’s more a general horror at the idea of the whole thing.  It reads like the City of God, but with out any story.  What is it like being any of these people?  He comes closest to elucidating this emotional reality while writing about those who suffer.  But what about those who inflict pain?  What about the capos?  It’s not clear Saviano got all that close to those working inside the crime system.  All the information reads like it was gathered on the perimeter.  Data dumps are mixed in with historical narrative that rarely focuses down into a scene by scene account. Saviano does sprinkle profiles here and there:  the best are those of General Kalashnikov and the tailor Pasquale.  Some of these vignettes make the slog worthwhile.  The gruesome first page led me to close the cover and purchase the book immediately. But the power is not sustained.  Still, some facts provoke thought: 

The celebrated “Big Mac” index estimates the prosperity of a country based on the cost of a McDonald’s hamburger.  To calculate the state of human rights, the analysts consider the price of an AK-47.  The less it costs, the more human rights violations there are…


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