Gomorrah A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System

Roberto Saviano; Translated from the Italian by Virginia Jewiss




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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An Economist Book of the Year
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year
 Gomorrah is Roberto Saviano's nonfiction account of the decline of Naples under the rule of the Camorra, an organized crime network with a large international reach and stakes in construction, high fashion, illicit drugs, and toxic-waste disposal. Known by insiders as "the System," the Camorra affects cities and villages along the Neapolitan coast, and is the deciding factor in why Campania, for instance, has the highest murder rate in all of Europe and why cancer levels there have skyrocketed in recent years. Saviano tells of huge cargoes of Chinese goods that are shipped to Naples and then quickly distributed unchecked across Europe. He investigates the Camorra's control of thousands of Chinese factories contracted to manufacture fashion goods, legally and illegally, for distribution around the world, and relates the details of how the improper handling of toxic waste is causing pollution not only for Naples but also China and Somalia. In pursuit of his subject, Saviano worked as an assistant at a Chinese textile manufacturer, a waiter at a Camorra wedding, and on a construction site. A native of the region, he recalls seeing his first murder at the age of fourteen, and how his father, a doctor, was beaten for trying to aid an eighteen-year-old victim who had been left for dead in the street.


Praise for Gomorrah

"An engrossing book, animated by a fervor that’s uncommon in American investigative reporting . . . As much a literary lament as a gritty exposé."—Mother Jones
"A powerful work of reportage, Gomorrah became a literary sensation when it appeared in Italy last year, selling an astonishing 600,000 copies. It started a national conversation, but also won its 28-year-old first-time author uglier accolades: death threats and a constant police escort. He now lives in hiding. The stakes are high. In Gomorrah, Saviano charts the Camorra's involvement in the garment industry and its grip on the port of Naples, where 1.6 million tons of Chinese merchandise are unloaded a year—and another million pass through without a trace, evading taxes. In mapping out the Camorra's control over garbage and industrial waste removal, as well as drug dealing, construction and public works fraud, Saviano considers human rights indicators (the price of an AK-47 is low in Campania), and economic ones (in the 1990s, the Mercedes sales in one Campania town were among the highest in Europe). Drawing on trial transcripts and his own reporting, he explains the internecine battles between rival factions of the Di Lauro clan for control of the region's drug trade. Part economic analysis, part social history, part cri de coeur, this crushing testimonial is the most important book to come out of Italy in years. Like Conrad's London, Saviano's Naples is also one of the dark places of the earth. He tugged a loose thread in the fabric of Italian bourgeois respectability and kept pulling until nothing was left . . . The emotional truth of Saviano's account is unassailable. I could not get this brave book out of my head. After reading Gomorrah, it becomes impossible to see Italy, and the global market, in the same way again."—Rachel Donadio, The New York Times
"Think of Italy—the world's seventh-largest economy—and sleek Ferraris, Armani suits, wine, food and tourism come to mind. But . . . an Italian business association reported that the largest sector of the country's economy is organized crime, accounting for an estimated 7 percent of its gross domestic product. That's $127 billion, more than twice the annual revenue of Microsoft. To put flesh on that unsettling X-ray, read Roberto Saviano's astonishing Gomorrah. The book is subtitled 'A Personal Journey Into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System,' and both personal and violent it is. Saviano's tour of his native Naples shows us the heart of what can only be called a company town for organized crime, with industrial toxins in great abundance . . . Saviano gallops straight into the maw of the inferno, using a hard-boiled style that has only begun to take root in Italian media. Naples is where he grew up, the Neapolitans are his people, and while the eyewitness accounts he brings to the page—stories of murderous barbarity and devastating debasement—could have been told by one of Dashiell Hammett's chilly protagonists, Saviano is no cold-blooded cynic. If there is a literary model at work here, it might be the Lamentations of Jeremiah . . . Many of Saviano's most astonishing set pieces are like dioramas from some lurid museum. There are murders, murders with torture, disposal of bodies (ingenious techniques that verge on folkways: bodies tossed into wells, followed by a grenade to bury them under tons of silt, extortion, gang wars and a teeming drug culture populated by zombie-junkies that make parts of Naples seem like scenes from 'Night of the Living Dead' . . . Saviano first began reporting on the Camorra as an analyst for a citizen watchdog group. This puts him squarely in the activist-journalism tradition of, say, George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. Saviano openly acknowledges the influence of both left-wing and theorist Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mafia-fighting judge and martyr Giovanni Falcone. He also exhibits the passion and heroism of a young man (he was born in 1979). His work has brought him death threats and, in turn, police protection—though not until Umberto Eco made a public appeal for the government to take action."—Antony Shugaar, The Washington Post Book World
"Saviano's strongly written book deserves the remarkable attention it has been getting. Shelves of books have been published about the Mafia during the last thirty years, many of them written on the fly by journalists who drew on large chunks of court documents and made little attempt to tell a coherent, dramatic story. Saviano's Gomorrah, by contrast, quite self-consciously (sometimes a little too self-consciously) models itself on such books as Michael's Herr's Dispatches and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Saviano gives a telling account of the ways in which organized crime in southern Italy fits into a world system of contraband goods—textiles, appliances, arms, and drugs—with connections to China's huge production of counterfeit goods, to off-the-books (but not necessarily criminal) employment in Italy, arms trafficking in Eastern Europe, construction and real estate in northern Europe, and the drug trade of South America. All of this adds up to an international underground economy that has implications far beyond its local boundaries."—Alexander Stille, The New York Review of Books 
"Napule (pronounced Na-poo-lay), as the natives refer to her, is where Virgil wrote the Aeneid. And no doubt it is Virgil, the voice of Reason in Dante's Divine Comedy, after whom Roberto Saviano fashioned himself as he risked life and limb to record one of the most in-depth accounts ever written about Italy's notorious underworld crime ring and its dealings in the international markets of high fashion, weapons, drugs, construction, and toxic waste disposal. This is a literary tour de force about The System (the name by which the Camorra refers to itself) and how those in it do their bad-guy business: 'To know you are businessmen destined to end up dead or in jail and still feel the ruthless desire to dominate powerful and unlimited economic empires.' Beginning at the Port of Naples, which he calls 'an open wound,' Saviano participates in the offloading of contraband from a Chinese vessel. He calculates that '60 percent of the goods arriving in Naples escape official customs inspection, 20 percent of the bills of entry go unchecked, and fifty thousand shipments are contraband, 99 percent of them from China' . . . A chapter titled 'The Secondigliano War' is the book's most captivating. (Secondigliano is a suburb of Naples where Camorristi live and do business.) Here, like a Shakespearean scholar, Saviano holds forth on the attributes and fatal flaws of his favorite mob characters, while at the same time interpreting the meaning of an internecine Camorra war: 'This is the new rhythm of criminal entrepreneurs, the new thrust of the economy: to dominate it at any cost. Power before all else. Economic victory is more precious than life itself. Than anyone's life, including your own.'"—Richard Horan, The Christian Science Monitor
"Saviano . . . uses the port city of Naples as an entry point into the nefarious dealings of the Italian crime network, the Camorra, which has a stranglehold on the global economy through its control of the international clothing market, art collecting, drug dealing, construction trades, and toxic waste disposal. Naples is the epicenter for the criminal cartel since, as Saviano says, 'Everything that exists passes through here.' At a time when Chinese exports of pet food and seafood have become suspect, Saviano provides a revealing examination of the ways in which black-market profit mongering and lack of regulations ruin workers' lives and endanger us all. This investigation, published in Italy in 2006, became a best-seller and won the Viareggio Literary Prize. It's a stunner of a book, as accessible to American audiences, through its searing style and timely investigation, as it is to Italians. Perhaps most importantly, Saviano's accusations are utterly convincing because of his undercover investigations: in the best Upton Sinclair tradition, he worked at a Chinese textile factory in Naples, at a construction site, even as a waiter at a Camorra family wedding. Throughout, he relies on the significant detail to carry his outrage: scores of frozen Chinese bodies spilling out onto a dock; the sight of a Chinese factory worker at the bottom of a well, beaten and stabbed to death after refusing sex with her boss. Through his firsthand observation and interviews, he lays bare the abuses fed by this well-oiled and well-hidden criminal system."—Connie Fletcher, Booklist (starred review)
"Saviano has created a perfectly realized, morally compelling journey through the brutal world of contemporary Italian mob life in this ceaselessly violent tale of the Camorra, a network of thugs, exploiters and killers who run Naples and the surrounding countryside. Armed with a police band radio, Saviano visits one crime scene after another, recording the final words and circumstances of the dying and dead. The murders described are savage, cruel and senseless: 'The head . . . hadn't been cut off with a hatchet, a clean blow, but with a metal grinder: the kind of circular saw welders use to polish soldering. The worst possible tool, and thus the most obvious choice.' Jewiss's translation of Saviano's intense prose flows beautifully from the pestilence and degradation of everyday life in the teeming Neapolitan slums to the futile efforts of the police to control the rich, organic chaos that is the only way the Camorra know how to live . . . this is a must-read for anyone interested in the state of contemporary Europe."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"As Neapolitan philosopher Saviano writes, [the mob has] also become a globalized multinational corporation with a long reach. 'The Camorra,' laments Saviano, 'is made up of groups that suck like voracious lice, thus hindering all economic development, and others that operate as instant innovators, pushing their businesses to new heights of development and trade.' Operating on the vicious margins, but also in the space that government and development agencies might otherwise occupy, the Neapolitan crime syndicates, with their 'flexible, federalist structure,' are far more populous than the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta or the Sicilian Mafia and cast a wider net. They set up companies, pull down others, band together and pull apart. Far from the thugs who conspired in postwar Italy to smuggle cigarettes in from Montenegro without paying taxes, they have their fingers in every aspect of the consumer economy, for 'consumer goods have replaced the nicotine habit as the new contraband.' Say 'consumer goods,' and you immediately implicate the Chinese, whose own organized crime groups care little about how their wares enter the European market so long as they get there. (The American market, too—buy an Italian-designer anything, and the chances are good that it was made in China.) By Saviano's calculation, 1.6 million tons of Chinese goods enter the port of Naples legally, but at least another million tons 'pass through without leaving a trace.' The Chinese themselves do—visit a morgue in Naples, and the Asian bodies—in the wrong place at the wrong time—are everywhere . . . Saviano's account is . . . eye-opening and sobering."—Kirkus Reviews

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Robert Saviano was born in 1979 and studied philosophy at the University of Naples. Gomorrah, his first book, has won many awards, including the prestigious 2006 Viareggio Literary Prize. After its publication, he was placed under police protection.

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  • Roberto Saviano; Translated from the Italian by Virginia Jewiss

  • Roberto Saviano was born in 1979 and studied philosophy at the University of Naples. Gomorrah, his first book, has won many awards, including the prestigious 2006 Viareggio Literary Prize. After its publication, he was placed under police protection.
  • Roberto Saviano Piero Pompili
    Roberto Saviano