Roberto Saviano

Portrait Roberto Saviano
© Ali Ghandtschi

Roberto Saviano was born in Naples in 1979. After graduating in philosophy at the Università Federico II he began working as a journalist, writing for the weekly newspaper »L’Espresso« and for the alternative blog »Nazione Indiana«. He is a member of the Osservatorio sulla Camorra et l’Illegalità, an organization dedicated to researching the Camorra and to finding ways of informing the public about their activities.

In his articles and reportages Saviano focuses in particular on the intrigues of Camorra, a powerful amalgamation of various Clans whose sphere of influence is especially felt in Naples and surrounding regions. In May 2006 he published his book »Gomorra – Viaggio Nell’imperio Economico E Nel Sogno Di Dominio Della Camorra« (t: Gomorra: Travel through the economic empire and Camorra’s dream of dominance), a hybrid of fiction and reportage which was made into a film in 2008. Four months later, he denounced the leading Camorristi by name at an anti-Camorra event, breaking a taboo despite the fact that the identities and crimes concerned were a matter of common knowledge to all.

Essentially, Saviano was the first person to denounce – with an anger fed by his own experience – openly and using precision and literary bravura, the connections that existed between the criminal organization, individual trades and local politicians. Inspite of adopting a passionate, accusatory stance, the tone found in all his texts is extremely matter-of-fact. Names, times of day, places and actions are meticulously documented. Saviano sees his work as a permanent search for the hidden mechanisms of power within contemporary societies. Like his role model Nick Tosches, he presents such structures in a way that never follows purely theoretical lines. Through personal histories and encounters, Saviano makes clear how the rules of the free market benefit the business of the Neapolitan Camorra. He thus brings surprising and revealing connections to light, such as the link between the illegal factories in Naples, the southern Italian land fill problem and a gala dress worn by Angelina Jolie.

The commercial success of his work was followed by literary recognition, including the award of the coveted Premio Viareggio. Saviano’s love of truth, however, has meanwhile cost him dear. In a climate marked by fear, idealization and the self-styling of gangsters as pop stars, critics of the Camorra – the second largest employer in the region after the state – are not looked upon fondly, even by the general public. The writer has been receiving death threats since September 2006. Umberto Eco’s appeal to the Italian state to protect its artists and do away with organized crime once and for all was ineffective except getting a police escort for Saviano. The author no longer lives in Naples, but in a secret place of residence.

© international literature festival berlin