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Interview: Roberto Saviano

Fire and brimstone from Gomorrah 's author
By PETER KEOUGH  |  February 27, 2009


Review: Gommorah. By Peter Keough.
Roberto Saviano knew what his mission was a dozen or so years ago, when he was 16. A beloved local priest, Don Peppino, got whacked for preaching against the Camorra, the mob syndicate that had been poisoning Naples and the Campania region for years and whose power was greater and more widespread than that of the Cosa Nostra. "Gomorrah," Don Peppino declared it, after the Biblical city that God leveled for its vice. Years later, Saviano would take up Don Peppino's work, writing the bestselling exposé Gomorrah, which Matteo Garrone has adapted into an award-winning film.

The Camorra responded by marking Saviano for death. He now lives under 24-hour police protection. The following interview, his answers translated from the Italian, was conducted by e-mail.

What was your participation in adapting the film to the screen?
I contributed to the screenplay by writing the subject. The challenge was stimulating because all the research I had done over the years came together in writing an account of clan activities that wasn't intended for the big screen. The initial choice of episodes from Gomorrah the book converged into Gomorrah the film; I did it myself in writing the subject. Then Matteo Garrone made a further selection that worked with his idea of how to describe organized crime in the south of Italy to the rest of the country and, why not, the rest of the world.

You are a ubiquitous character in the book, whereas in the film you are absent except possibly in the persona of the waste-disposal apprentice Roberto. Are you satisfied with this change?
I'm not at all unhappy with this variation. . . . The point is that in the book, and in narrative texts in general, a unifying figure who takes the reader by the hand [and] sometimes into uncomfortable situations or where he would never want to go is much more important, as opposed to the medium of film, where the power of the image surpasses any narrative perception whatsoever.

As you were researching the book, what was the most dangerous situation you got involved in?
In border areas, you find yourself involved in situations I wouldn't define as at all safe. It's all in knowing how to move in those contexts, in asking the right questions, keeping a low profile, not attracting attention.

Is there anything in the book you are sorry was omitted from the film? Are you happy with the additions?
The film is a good product. It's the fruit of a strong idea, the idea that Garrone wanted to put on the screen. No moralizing whatsoever, the violence shown in its essence, more pure and less spectacular. I believe that the omissions and additions work with this: showing how the Camorra is rooted in the social and economic fiber of Campania and how it's just like all marginalized suburbs in the world.

Have the book and the movie brought about any changes in the Naples area or in the status of the Camorra?
I live under police protection because the Camorra is troubled by the enormous sales of the book. The Camorra wants to act in the shadows, it doesn't want to see its business under a spotlight. And Gomorrah has informed two million readers of the clan business. With these figures, it's inevitable that Italian public opinion has of necessity had to reckon with one of the most thriving economic phenomena in Italy.

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