Disclaimer: Physical ARC provided by Penguin.
It’s a good thing that Saviano is not a drug pusher because if he was, more people would be addicted.
Saviano’s Zero ZeroZero is a book about cocaine and the Cartels that control the ebb and flow as well as subtle effects on the society at large. Saviano looks at the global cocaine trade, so the focus is on the global aspects instead of the local dealer. While the Cartels get most of the focus, there is a powerful chapter about drug mules. The police who try to stop the drug trade are also given attention, including a chapter about dogs (and that chapter is not entirely pleasant reading for dog lovers). While there are connections between the Cartels and the mob in Italian, this is even more global in scope than Gomorrah.
Saviano divides his book into sections, and each sections begins with what amounts in most of the cases to a prose poem that details an aspect of the cocaine trade (the most factual one details different ways of smuggling cocaine. These prologues to each section not only the allure the drug has, but also touch on the nature of addiction, something that we can never fully understand. If any writer gets the reader close to that impossible understanding, it is Saviano in these sections.
This book is more relevant for the average citizen, in particular the average citizen of the United States as well as México and Columbia, because of the look at how the War on Drugs fails at an international level as well as a governmental level. While there is not a close look at the effects of the average citizen in say México as there was in books such as Murder City, Saviano does much to highlight the violence that usually gets simple lip service. Part of the reason why this book is not a quick read is that Saviano’s writing is like dark chocolate, you need to think about what you just read after 20-40 pages. Another reason is that he doesn’t pull punches when describing what the cartels do to some people.
And the American news really doesn’t report that all that well.
Sometimes, however, you shouldn’t pull punches. Sometimes, in particular when trying to make people aware, you can’t be nice and sensitive.
And then there is the whole chapter about Africa. Is it the beginning of some other type of cartel? Is it an extension of fallout of colonialism? A combination of the two?
It’s strange, though. When describing the violence, Saviano is impersonal, but it is quite clear in parts that the book is in some manner personal. At times, Saviano slips in personal details about his life since the publication of Gomorrah (he is under protection) and one wonders, in particular, in a chapter about a journalist who is killed by the cartel, if Saviano sees something of himself in the reporters there, if the subject is personal because of the risk. And this comes out in section that talks about the danger of reading – and it is a danger because you can never unread or unknown (unless you get hurt or sick). It is a danger, but also a power. Saviano mediates on this. Does a writer’s desire to give that power to a reader though the connivance of knowledge always work and is it worth the risks (and in some cases the death) that the reporter faces? Do readers abdicate that power when they put the book down and do nothing with their newfound knowledge? Does the media let people done by appealing the lowest of the lowest denominators? Perhaps because I’ve recently been to the Newseum and seen its Wall of the Fallen that I thought about these issues during the second half of this book.
Saviano must be one of the few writers alive (if not the only one)who can take a topic such as drugs and constantly morph it though the book, drawing connections to everything. Read this, and you will never look at cocaine or illegal drugs the same way again.
(A quick note – I read ARC so the final version might have what I actually really wanted when I reached the half way point. I wanted a person list to help keep the various members of the cartels straight. Sometimes a great many names come very, very quickly. A list would have helped.)