on 9 March 2016
A book that begins with an image of dozens of frozen bodies falling from a shipping container is one that promises to keep your attention, and this book does just that. Gomorrah, Roberto Saviano’s breakout bestseller is a book as horrendously beautiful and as carefully constructed as the produce of the crime gangs it details. Though it is a book full of facts and figures, they are cloaked in vibrantly descriptive prose. This not only makes the book easy to read, it makes it visceral and gripping. Saviano’s description of the places, the fear, and his own experiences help the reader comprehend the undeniable reality of the Camorra, spreading like an ink stain across the fabric of the world.
The structure of this book is almost as hard to concisely describe as the structure of the Camorra itself. As they are split into factions, ever changing, ever growing in power, so too is the book, it is part undercover report, part autobiography, part political condemnation, but these parts meld beautifully to create that rarest of things. A book that is equal parts raw, honest, and informative. A book that speaks of horror, yet somehow conveys its own form of hope. A book that comes from the streets, and elevates them to the heavens with its spectacular prose. Gomorrah is a book that speaks of the worst corners of this world, not because it wishes to shock, but because it wishes to inform, and inspire change. This is a brave book, a rare book, a book that changes the lives of all who read it, and the lives of all those found within its pages, its author included.
There is no doubt that Gomorrah was written in the heat of passion; its words drip with Saviano’s anger and shame at what has happened to his home, yet the rage does not overpower the reality, and what the reader experiences is a book equally filled with truth and emotion. The style of the book, its jarring and changing pace, its sudden switching of scenes and topics, its honesty, its visceral, vital, description, are all testament to the man who wrote it.
It is impossible that any other author, at any other time, could have written this book. It is a fortunate, and faithful, melding of one man, with one place, in one moment, combining his passion and experiences, with the Camorra’s corruption and hardship. It is true that without Campania, without the Camorra, there would be no book, but it is equally true that it could not exist, at least, not in such an exquisite, and affecting form, without Roberto Saviano. It is his voice that leads us through the world of the Camorra, and it is his voice, though tempered by Virginia Jewiss’ translation, that brings it to life with such power and precision.
This book consistently grows in power with every turn, until, in it’s last words, which take the form of an imagined declaration, torn from the lips of Saviano himself, it seems to become a cry from the mountains of Campania, that rushes through the twisted streets of Naples like the changing tide, chasing the Camorra wherever they hide, becoming a cry for change, a cry for hope.
This is more than a book, it is a world condensed into words. Its pages hold nothing less than the outpourings of a heart breaking at the destruction of its home and the exploitation of all those who live there. Gomorrah is, at its core, a call for cultural revolution, and there is no doubt that there will be one.