Review: The Ring + The Opposite of Death, By Roberto Saviano (trs Abigail Asher)

A powerful and poetic volume of ‘fictional reportage’ on the infamous Camorra
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Roberto Saviano has lived in hiding since Gomorrah, his 2006 exposé of the Camorra which became a bestseller and landed him a fatwa-like sentence from the Mafioso bosses he was exposing.

Yet he has not relented in his courageous campaign and subsequent works have circled the same question of how the Neapolitan mafia holds the Southern region in its tight, tyrannical grip.

All roads lead back to the insidious, omipresent threat of vengeance and calculated thuggery that lies behind the Camorra’s organised crime in this slim volume, comprised of two short, stand-alone pieces which read like fiction but are reconstructed realities of sorts; the book jacket calls it “fictional reportage”. 

Here the Camorra is the ultimate bully, forcing communities into collusion, if only through their fearful silence and passivity. The stories shift in perspective but revolve around the experiences of two women – a reporter who is the visiting ‘outsider’ in a Southern town in the first story, and in the second, a 17-year-old widow-bride of a man who enlists to fight the war in Afghanistan in order to escape the the mafia, but gets killed before he can get to the altar. This woman, Maria, is the suffering ‘insider’. In fact, all who live in these Southern towns must suffer, it seems. While in Gomorrah Saviano showed us the larger matrix of the mafia’s business connections, here, life in small-scale is held up to study. Shame alongside silent indignation infuses those who live in these towns, holding their curses of the Camorra – how it controls and destroys their community by turns– under their breath for fear of the always brutal outcome. Italy’s North-South divide is a related theme and is evocatively caught in the opening story: a bunch of flowers by the roadside is mistaken as a poignant mark for a road death by the Northerner, when the Southerner knows it to be the spot where “people had been shot, taken out, bumped off.” The South, across this book, is also a place of permanent mourning and permanent war, so much so that  “more than half of the Italian war dead are from the South”.

The fictional reportage is not without fault. At times, it strays into polemic and rhetorical speechifying, quite forgetting the fiction part. It is as if Saviano breaks out in a sweat, and shouts his outrage, before continuing the story. Overall, the material, at 75 pages and two stories that could easily have been part of a larger collection, is powerful, but slight.

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