April 20, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C
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Bios & Memoirs


The Day of the Owl

Rumors of Italian government complicity with the Mafia are age-old, but Sciascia pulled no punches.

Emilio's Carnival (Senilità)

Italo Svevo, born Aron Hector Schmitz, time and again presaged the modern curve.

The Baron in the Trees

Italo Calvino's gift was an adamant refusal to see the planet conventionally.

Little Misunderstandings of No Importance

The late Antonio Tabucchi always wanted it both ways: real and surreal.

The Siren

At his best, the late Dino Buzzati made the magical abut the mundane.

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana

In English, "That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana" is an impossible novel — which makes it necessary.

Zeno's Conscience

Italo Svevo's remarkable Zeno Cosini has the pedigree of a 21st-century neurotic.


Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty

Jennifer Clark's careful accounting of Fiat's ups and downs is essential Italy reading.

Street Art Stories – Roma

Tracking Rome street art is a noble cause, but not when words get in the way.

Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth

Little written about World War II and southern Italy rivals Lewis' memoir.

Zero, Zero, Zero
By Roberto Saviano
Feltrinelli, 2013. 448 pages (in Italian)

Italian journalist Robert Saviano’s 2006 "Gomorra," an exposé of the Naples underworld group known as Camorra, was a unique and gripping bestseller. Saviano put face and detail to news reports and conveyed the pervasive horror and grit that perverts the life in the southern Italian city. The book's success produced two immediate results: a round-the-clock police escort for its author and his status as a national celebrity. He's now a TV commentator who talks as easily about the Middle East as Italian politics.

His latest book tries giving Naples' criminal woes a global perspective by focusing on cocaine, which he sees as underlying all criminal evil. For Saviano, cocaine trafficking propels the modern economy, making for improbable connections between struggling Calabrian businessmen, Colombian peasant insurgents, and international bankers.

But sometimes his eagerness gets the better of him as he crosses oceans and travels through time to illustrate interlocking drug deals and political bargains. He can be brilliant, particularly when he makes a case for cocaine's pervasiveness, illustrating “above suspicion” players, including the middle-class operators who help with a traffic that despite computer spreadsheets and GPS tracking still hinges on violence, coercion and oppression, whether the oppressed are addicts or everyday Calabrians.

But the reams of detail, constant shifts in time frame and emphasis on gory crimes ultimately weaken the impact. The narrative grows cluttered.

Saviano was vilified when he boldly (and vitally) pointed out the extent to which criminal groups had infiltrated the sanctimonious Italian north, including Milan. It's too bad, then, that this overburdened book opens him to criticism by those who dismiss him as a prolix Don Quixote.

We meet cocaine casualties, including informers, and drug kingpins well past their prime. But the book's deeper casualty is the lack of an editor who knows that taking out matters more than putting in.

Reviewed by Madeleine Johnson
Day and Boarding International High School in the Heart of Rome

Everything you need to know about visiting or moving to Tuscany, Italy.