One of the most important, and useful, books to have come out recently in Italy isn’t a novel, but an exposure of the role played by the Camorra, the international Mafia-style structure with its base in the organised crime of Campania, the region around Naples and, in many ways, a state within a state. The book’s called, with a brutally neat play on words, Gomorrah. Written by Roberto Saviano (see right), it’s sold 600,000 copies in Italy and earned its author the dubious privilege of needing police protection. He may be living abroad as I write this. Just last week, the newspapers published recorded conversations between a Camorra capo and his underlings, in which the capo expressed his hope that investigating magistrates hadn’t read what the book had to say about him. It says something about the weird isolation in which these people live that he thought his secret might be safe.
Gomorrah has now been translated into English. There a review of it in the New York Times, where you can find the publishing details. Italy isn’t just pizza and Piero della Francesca, as of course you know. The fact that a prime minister can control the entire television system to ensure that bad news doesn’t happen ought to be proof enough. But the extent to which the country manages to live with its dark shadow, not only in Naples but throughout the nation, from Verona to Bari, from Milan to Palermo, remains a source of dreadful wonder. It’s as though it were always noon and the shadow were a small tight circle hobbling the country’s feet.