Beauty and the Inferno

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Roberto Saviano


Roberto Saviano's book Gomorrah, and the subsequent film adaptation, put the global spotlight on the grip that organised crime, the Camorra, holds over Naples and the surrounding region.

The price he paid for that was a death sentence and being forced to live under the protection of the Italian state police in barracks and safe houses.

This book is a collection of his essays. Some are clearly written as an escape from his isolation, while others record meetings with remarkable people, including Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi and Mafia infiltrating FBI agent Joe Pistone (whose story was told in the film Donnie Brasco), and events such as receiving the Nobel Prize.

He lets rip at the death and devastation the Camorra inflicts and the compliance of big business in this. His love of those who escape the Camorra's net, including the teenagers who star in the film, and, understandably, Naples, shines through. It contrasts with his anger over the discrimination visited on the Italian south.

Saviano points out that members of the Camorra and Mafia include surgeons and financiers as well as the foot soldiers who sell the drugs and pull the triggers. Yet I feel he fails to explore how they have cashed in on a free market economy and privatisation. He also pulls his punches when dealing with Silvio Berlusconi's governing coalition.

Today Saviano is a constant presence in the Italian media. He's also kept himself largely in isolation from other anti-Mafia campaigners. This has led to criticism from some on the left.

Yet some of his recent statements colour these essays. Over a year ago he praised Italy's hard-line, anti-immigrant home secretary - a member of the racist Northern League which attacks southerners - as the best interior minister Italy's ever had.

Last autumn he joined via video link a pro-Israel rally in Rome, stating, "Israel represents the best example of a state which supports legality and security."

Saviano has also praised "the anti-Mafia values of Giorgio Almirante" - a man who served as a minister in Mussolini's final regime, under Nazi occupation, and was the re-founder of the fascist party post-1945.

Last December he issued an open letter attacking the violence of the mass student movement sweeping Italy - calling for the "bad" protesters to be isolated. The student movement responded by saying his stand would encourage state repression, and he had nothing to say about the beatings the police administered.

Beauty and the Inferno is well written - not without flaws but worth a read.

Beauty and the Inferno is published by Quercus, £18.99