Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley
There is a tendency to romanticize the mob. Whether it is the fault of The Godfather movies or something more else, many people feel a certain affection for the mob. Perhaps it is a sense of loyalty or of family. Who knows? It is mostly a love for violence and mayhem, for instance in Scarface.
But that’s all Hollywood.
There are certain things that buck the trend – say The Wire, which is about drug dealers but also about the culture that allows them to exist and how policing is not the solution. There’s Saviano’s Gomorrah, a book which earned him a target on his back, but that also demolishes any romance for the mob and forces people to confront the truth (this is also true of the movie and tv series that the book produced).
Saviano’s latest mob book, The Piranhas, is one of those novels supposedly based in true events. I’m not sure; I don’t know enough about Italy and the mob to say so.
However, if the fourth season of The Wire is the best because it looks at how a failing school system sets up its students for failure, then Saviano’s book does the same thing for Italy. The story follows a group of boys, led by Nicolas, who want to become Camorra bosses. In part, this is a result of the steady diet of media they consume, and in part, it is because of what they see every day, who controls everything, and how everything in their world works. They can become like some of the fathers, but the boys do not seem to view those men as real men, but as simply weak.
And that something these boys cannot be seen as, for they want to be in the ones in the private room.
What the book then chronicles aren’t the corrupting of the innocent, but how a presence of crime combined with social media and status lead a group of boys to become, not so much men, but young people with guns. The boys can’t be corrupted because that happen long ago, and nothing different is really shown to them. If it isn’t the Camorra controlling something it’s the better neighborhoods or towns controlling something, acting like the Camorra without the official illegality. Even the teachers are in on it, for that is simply life. Those that do not join, simply do not anything really.
It is a bleak novel, a harsh novel, and one without a true hero. The reader cannot root for, isn’t suppose to root for, any of the young boys who despite their bravo are still boys. Still, at times, think the Camorra is simply as it is in the movies (which do make for the truly funny passages of the novel), yet who do have a degree of flare and intelligence needed to pull things off.
Yet, we need novels like this, in the bleakness, because we need to confront what is wrong in society and why we glorify criminals who don’t really have that many redeeming features and whose actions murder innocence and hope. At least we need to, if we want to break the cycle. It is violent but it does not celebrate violence the way that many movies do. No, it is far more personal than that.