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

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

by Roberto Saviano, Virginia Jewiss

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Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System by Roberto Saviano

A groundbreaking major bestseller in Italy, Gomorrah is Roberto Saviano's gripping 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 whycancer 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 chilling details of how the abusive handling of toxic waste is causing devastating 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 own father, a doctor, suffered a brutal beating for trying to aid an eighteen-year-old victim who had been left for dead in the street.

Gomorrah is a bold and important work of investigative writing that holds global significance, one heroic young man's impassioned story of a place under the rule of a murderous organization.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429955386
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 10/30/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 56,767
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Roberto Saviano was born in Naples and studied philosophy at university.


Roberto Saviano was born in Naples and studied philosophy at university. Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System is his first book. In 2011 he was awarded the PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Award.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1
The container swayed as the crane hoisted it onto the ship. The spreader, which hooks the container to the crane, was unable to control its movement, so it seemed to float in the air. The hatches, which had been improperly closed, suddenly sprang open, and dozens of bodies started raining down. They looked like mannequins. But when they hit the ground, their heads split open, as if their skulls were real. And they were. Men, women, even a few children, came tumbling out of the container. All dead. Frozen, stacked one on top of another, packed like sardines. These were the Chinese who never die. The eternal ones, who trade identity papers among themselves. So this is where they’d ended up, the bodies that in the wildest fantasies might have been cooked in Chinese restaurants, buried in fields beside factories, or tossed into the mouth of Vesuvius. Here they were. Spilling from the container by the dozen, their names scribbled on tags and tied with string around their necks. They’d all put aside money so they could be buried in China, back in their hometowns, a percentage withheld from their salaries to guarantee their return voyage once they were dead. A space in a container and a hole in some strip of Chinese soil. The port crane operator covered his face with his hands as he told me about it, eyeing me through his fingers. As if the mask of his hands might give him the courage to speak. He’d seen the bodies fall, but there’d been no need to sound the alarm. He merely lowered the container to the ground, and dozens of people appeared out of nowhere to put everyone back inside and hose down the remains. That’s how it went. He still couldn’t believe it and hoped he was hallucinating, due to too much overtime. Then he closed his fingers, completely covering his eyes. He kept on whimpering, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
Everything that exists passes through here. Through the port of Naples. There’s not a product, fabric, piece of plastic, toy, hammer, shoe, screwdriver, bolt, video game, jacket, pair of pants, drill, or watch that doesn’t come through the port. The port of Naples is an open wound. The end point for the interminable voyage that merchandise makes. Ships enter the gulf and come to the dock like babies to the breast, except that they’re here to be milked, not fed. The port of Naples is the hole in the earth out of which what’s made in China comes. The Far East, as reporters still like to call it. Far. Extremely far. Practically unimaginable. Closing my eyes, I see kimonos, Marco Polo’s beard, Bruce Lee kicking in midair. But in fact this East is more closely linked to the port of Naples than to any other place. There’s nothing far about the East here. It should be called the extremely near East, the least East. Everything made in China is poured out here. Like a bucket of water dumped into a hole in the sand. The water eats the sand, and the hole gets bigger and deeper. The port of Naples handles 20 percent of the value of Italian textile imports from China, but more than 70 percent of the quantity. It’s a bizarre thing, hard to understand, yet merchandise possesses a rare magic: it manages both to be and not to be, to arrive without ever reaching its destination, to cost the customer a great deal despite its poor quality, and to have little tax value in spite of being worth a huge amount. Textiles fall under quite a few product classifications, and a mere stroke of the pen on the shipping manifest can radically lower price and VAT. In the silence of the port’s black hole, the molecular structure of merchandise seems to break down, only to recompose once it gets beyond the perimeter of the coast. Goods have to leave the port immediately. Everything happens so quickly that they disappear in the process, evaporate as if they’d never existed. As if nothing had happened, as if it had all been simply an act. An imaginary voyage, a false landing, a phantom ship, evanescent cargo. Goods need to arrive in the buy-er’s hands without leaving any drool to mark their route, they have to reach their warehouse quickly, right away, before time can even begin—time that might allow for an inspection. Hundreds of pounds of merchandise move as if they were a package hand-delivered by the mailman. In the port of Naples—330 acres spread out along seven miles of coastline—time undergoes unique expansions and contractions. Things that take an hour elsewhere seem to happen here in less than a minute. Here the proverbial slowness that makes the Neapolitan’s every move molasses-like is quashed, confuted, negated. The ruthless swiftness of Chinese merchandise overruns the temporal dimension of customs inspections, killing time itself. A massacre of minutes, a slaughter of seconds stolen from the records, chased by trucks, hurried along by cranes, helped by forklifts that disembowel the containers.
COSCO, the largest Chinese state-owned shipping company, with the world’s third-largest fleet, operates in the port of Naples in consort with MSC, a Geneva-based company that owns the world’s second-largest commercial fleet. The Swiss and Chinese decided to pool together and invest heavily in Naples, where they manage the largest cargo terminal. With over 3,000 feet of pier, nearly a million and a half square feet of terminal, and more than 300,000 square feet of outdoor space at their disposal, they absorb almost all the traffic in transit for Europe. You have to reconfigure your imagination to try to understand the port of Naples as the bottom rung of the ladder of Chinese production. The biblical image seems appropriate: the eye of the needle is the port, and the camel that has to pass through it are the ships. Enormous vessels line up single file out in the gulf and await their turn amid the confusion of pitching sterns and colliding bows; rumbling with heaving iron, the sheet metal and screws slowly penetrate the tiny Neapolitan opening. It is as if the anus of the sea were opening out, causing great pain to the sphincter muscles.
But no. It’s not like that. There’s no apparent confusion. The ships all come and go in orderly fashion, or at least that’s how it looks from dry land. Yet 150,000 containers pass through here every year. Whole cities of merchandise get built on the quays, only to be hauled away. A port is measured by its speed, and every bureaucratic sluggishness, every meticulous inspection, transforms the cheetah of transport into a slow and lumbering sloth.
I always get lost on the pier. Bausan pier is like something made out of LEGO blocks. An immense construction that seems not so much to occupy space as to invent it. One corner looks like it’s covered with wasps’ nests. An entire wall of bastard beehives: thousands of electrical outlets that feed the “reefers,” or refrigerator containers. All the TV dinners and fish sticks in the world are crammed into these icy containers. At Bausan pier I feel as if I’m seeing the port of entry for all the merchandise that mankind produces, where it spends its last night before being sold. It’s like contemplating the origins of the world. The clothes young Parisians will wear for a month, the fish sticks that Brescians will eat for a year, the watches Catalans will adorn their wrists with, and the silk for every English dress for an entire season—all pass through here in a few hours. It would be interesting to read someplace not just where goods are manufactured, but the route they take to land in the hands of the buyer. Products have multiple, hybrid, and illegitimate citizenship. Half-born in the middle of China, they’re finished on the outskirts of some Slavic city, brought to perfection in northeastern Italy, packaged in Puglia or north of Tirana in Albania, and finally end up in a warehouse somewhere in Europe. No human being could ever have the rights of mobility that merchandise has. Every fragment of the journey, with its accidental and official routes, finds its fixed point in Naples. When the enormous container ships first enter the gulf and slowly approach the pier, they seem like lumbering mammoths of sheet metal and chains, the rusted sutures on their sides oozing water; but when they berth, they become nimble creatures. You’d expect these ships to carry a sizable crew, but instead they disgorge handfuls of little men who seem incapable of taming these brutes on the open ocean.
The first time I saw a Chinese vessel dock, I felt as if I were looking at the production of the whole world. I was unable to count the containers, to quantify them. I couldn’t keep track of them all. It might seem absurd not to be able to put a number on things, but I kept losing count, the figures were too big and got mixed up in my head.
These days the merchandise unloaded in Naples is almost exclusively Chinese—1.6 million tons annually. Registered merchandise, that is. At least another million tons pass through without leaving a trace. According to the Italian Customs Agency, 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—all for an estimated 200 million euros in evaded taxes each semester. The containers that need to disappear before being inspected are in the first row. Every container is duly numbered, but the numbers on many of them are identical. So one inspected container baptizes all the illegal ones with the same number. What gets unloaded on Monday can be for sale in Modena or Genoa or in the shop windows of Bonn or Munich by Thursday. Lots of merchandise on the Italian market is supposedly only in transit, but the magic of customs makes transit stationary. The grammar of merchandise has one syntax for documents and another for commerce. In April 2005, the Antifraud unit of Italian Customs, which had by chance launched four separate operations nearly simultaneously, sequestered 24,000 pairs of jeans intended for the French market; 51,000 items from Bangladesh labeled “Made in Italy”; 450,000 figurines, puppets, Barbies, and Spider-men; and another 46,000 plastic toys—for a total value of approximately 36 million euros. Just a small serving of the economy that was making its way through the port of Naples in a few hours. And from the port to the world. On it goes, all day, every day. These slices of the economy are becoming a staple diet.
The port is detached from the city. An infected appendix, never quite degenerating into peritonitis, always there in the abdomen of the coastline. A desert hemmed in by water and earth, but which seems to belong to neither land nor sea. A grounded amphibian, a marine metamorphosis. A new formation created from the dirt, garbage, and odds and ends that the tide has carried ashore over the years. Ships empty their latrines and clean their holds, dripping yellow foam into the water; motorboats and yachts, their engines belching, tidy up by tossing everything into the garbage can that is the sea. The soggy mass forms a hard crust all along the coastline. The sun kindles the mirage of water, but the surface of the sea gleams like trash bags. Black ones. The gulf looks percolated, a giant tub of sludge. The wharf with its thousands of multicolored containers seems an uncrossable border: Naples is encircled by walls of merchandise. But the walls don’t defend the city; on the contrary, it’s the city that defends the walls. Yet there are no armies of longshoremen, no romantic riffraff at the port. One imagines it full of commotion, men coming and going, scars and incomprehensible languages, a frenzy of people. Instead, the silence of a mechanized factory reigns. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around anymore, and the containers, ships, and trucks seem animated by perpetual motion. A silent swiftness. Excerpted from Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano. Copyright © 2007 by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A., Milan Translation copyright © 2007 by Virginia Jewiss. Published in November 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Contents

Part One,
The Port,
Angelina Jolie,
The System,
The Secondigliano War,
Women,
Part Two,
Kalashnikov,
Cement,
Don Peppino Diana,
Hollywood,
Aberdeen, Mondragone,
Land of Fires,

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Gomorrah 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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 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 thrives 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 speak 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 function 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. 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 th
mobill76 on LibraryThing 4 days ago
The author gives an insider's view of a monstrous system that is all the more disquieting because you're in there with him. Besides the titillation of so much blood and excess, what kept me reading was the intelligence and heart in the work. The tone sounds raw and cynical but it isn't without occasional touches of poetry and sentimentalism. The author never stayed in one mode long enough to get tiresome. I was shocked by what this book had to say. I don't know if I was convinced by the litany of the names and places or if I just sympathized with a good writer. His heart's in the right place. I hope it's still beating somewhere.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not certain of why someone would choose to be in incognito for the rest of their lives. Its certainly not a way of living. putting your family and loved ones at risk its not worth any awards. great story tho.
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Very informative
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chrisromano More than 1 year ago
Saviano abandons journalistic detachment and dives into the Napoli organized crime families as only a native with something at stake could. The Camorra are the economic engine for Italy, masterfully illustrated and explained by Saviano. This is a fun read as Saviano mixes econimics, popular culture, and mythology in his writing. A sad comment on Italy, leaving the impression of a failed state. Having been there on a number of occasions, it's a miracle anything works.
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Saviano is a real hero. The book is well written and very courageous.
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