Death Threats from the Mob A Mafia Fatwa for an Italian Author

Italian author Roberto Saviano's life is in danger. His book reveals uncomfortable secrets about the Neapolitan mafia and the mob would like him offed.

Roberto Saviano is taking on the mafia in Naples.

Roberto Saviano is taking on the mafia in Naples.

Roberto Saviano says his life has changed since his first novel, "Gomorra," came out in May. On the one hand, he told Italian TV, his book has been a success. Indeed, the book spent months on the bestseller lists, won this year's prestigious Viareggio Prize and has sold more than 100,000 copies in Italy. "On the other hand," the 28-year-old author says, "there is a feeling of great loneliness and irritation."

The trouble for Saviano is that "Gomorra" takes a detailed look at the Camorra, as the Naples mafia is known. In fact it's a play on words, comparing Naples to the sinful Old Testament city. But Saviano -- who has also written about the mob for the Neapolitan paper L'Espresso -- doesn't merely describe the mafia's influence in Naples. He also provides detailed descriptions of the inner workings of the criminal organization. And he names names.

The result has been death threats and numerous ominous signs that Saviano has become persona non grata in his native Naples. The mafia fatwa threatens to turn him into an Italian Salman Rushdie.

Saviano was finally granted police protection earlier this week. Writers, too, have begun rallying to his side. Umberto Eco, the famous author of "In the Name of the Rose," went on Italian television on Sunday with a plea. "Let's not leave Saviano alone, like Falcone and Borsellino" he said referring to a pair of anti-mafia examining magistrates in Sicily who were famously marginalized and then assassinated in bomb attacks in 1992. "In this case, appeals to writers for solidarity are of no use …. We know where the threats are coming from. We know the first and last names of those who are making them. What's required is a public intervention by the state."

Eco's calculation is a simple one. The mafia normally shies away from prominent murders, preferring instead to operate in the Italian underworld. When the mob does choose well-known targets, careful preparation includes isolating their victim as much as possible.

The process seems to be well advanced in Saviano's case. In one restaurant, he was told "you are not wanted here." According to a report in the Belfast Telegraph, a shopkeeper whispered furtively, "Must you really keep on buying your bread in this shop?" A local newspaper has been critical of him in its coverage.

Saviano grew up near Naples and started writing about the Camorra, he says, "out of rage." His work for L'Espresso introduced him to the cocaine trade, Rolex theft rings, and clan wars in Naples. The Camorrra, he once claimed, had murdered about 3,600 people since he was born.

Saviano is keeping a low profile for now and has reportedly left Naples for a time. L'Espresso, though, says he plans to be back in a few weeks. His book is soon to appear in German, English and French translations.


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