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The Sundaes Issue

Taking On The Italian Mafia

Over the last 30 years, the Camorra has grown into an all-pervasive, seemingly undefeatable network of vicious killers, loons, and businessmen.
02 August 2008, 12:00amUpdated on 19 March 2012, 3:32pm

Roberto Saviano is the 29-year-old author of

, the international best seller that, through a mixture of narrative and investigative journalism, exposes the workings of the most powerful, and least known, of the Italian Mafias: the Camorra of Naples.

Over the last 30 years, the Camorra has grown into an all-pervasive, seemingly undefeatable network of vicious killers, loons, and businessmen whose operations account for slightly less than 10 percent of Italy’s gross national product. His book is a powerful indictment of the “System” (as it’s called by its members) and a shocking account of the strength and ferocity of the Southern Italian crime syndicates. Saviano’s success, and his policy of openly stating the names and activities of the members of the Camorra, have made him an obvious target for assassination. He has been living with a 24-hour escort of three policemen who never leave his side for almost three years.

Recently, during the largest-ever anti-Mafia trial in Italian history, the “Spartacus trial,” the defense attorney read a 60-page letter penned by the suspects that openly accused Saviano, the public attorney, and a local journalist of trying to influence the court’s decision. Saviano himself has called the letter “a call to arms... a declaration that states that, were they to be indicted, we are to be held responsible.” In response to this declaration, Saviano came out of hiding to denounce the Camorra once more, on national television.

The day after his appearance on the screens of all Italian living rooms, we met with him for an interview. As we entered the lobby of the drab Milan hotel where we had planned to rendezvous, we were startled by a middle-aged man who quietly appeared at our side, leaned toward us, and asked in a barely audible whisper, “Are you here for Saviano?” We were taken to an undergound room without windows where our bags were opened and checked. Finally, Saviano himself entered the room, where we sat down, drank a glass of water, and chatted for a couple of hours about the Mafia’s power, his book, and his life.

Vice: If you were to explain the Camorra to someone who knew nothing about it, what would you say?

Roberto Saviano:

Exactly how powerful is the Camorra?

In your book you do a great job of explaining the international dimension of the Camorra. But the Mafia is seen as something quintessentially Italian. How does that work?

Do they also reach America?

Speaking of the Mafia’s international appeal, can you tell me what happened in Helsinki recently?

The Sopranos

Washington Post

Are the three Mafias very different from each other?

And the Camorra?

But the different Mafias work together?

It seems that the three Mafias do their business and deal with their public perception in different ways, and that the Camorra is the most media-savvy.

Why?

But if it’s so intertwined with the state and the law, isn’t it sort of invincible?

Is there a way to change things?

You often mention the waste-management business and the Camorra. How does a situation like that of the garbage emergency in Naples come about?

Don’t they have a problem with polluting the land they live in?

What about the famous honor code?

These violent crimes all have the fringe benefit of increasing their street cred.

Scarface

How did you actually write your book?

In Cold Blood

And this put you in danger.

The New York Times

Was there a particular incident when it dawned on you that you were going from first-time author to living in hiding with a 24-hour police escort?

How do you live your life? Do you still get to see your friends, your family?

Would you say your fame protects you?

Looking back, would you do it again?

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