A Review of Roberto Saviano's ZeroZeroZero
Roberto Saviano’s first book, Gomorrah, was published in 2006 and since then, the Neapolitan writer has been living under police protection after being threatened by Antonio Bidognetti, boss of the Casalesi family, known as one of the most dangerous Camorra (Mafia) clans in Naples. This fact alone shows the accuracy of Mr. Saviano’s research: he has rattled the clan with his words and they are feeling the pressure. I did not expect anything less with ZeroZeroZero, his second “non-fictional novel” in which he analyzes the connections between drug trafficking and the role of big banks. The title ZeroZeroZero comes from the purest baking flour (type zero, zero, zero) and it is also the code name used by traffickers to describe the purest form of cocaine.
Just like Truman Capote in Cold Blood, one of the first authors to develop the technique of the non-fictional novel, Saviano is able to recount real events with a creative element that is used, as a tool, to help the reader to better understand certain aspects of the reality of organized crime. Saviano dramatizes the truth by putting a normal “Joe” into a face-to-face with the darkest corners of the Camorra, leaving the reader to ask: “What would I do, if I were in the same situation?”
Addiction is the book’s main character: addiction to cocaine but mostly addiction to greed and power. According to RAND analysis, the world markets are addicted to the flow of cash that comes from drug trafficking: “in 2012 drug users in the United States spent nearly $100 billion annually on all four drugs (cocaine, marijuana, heroin and meth).” This vicious cycle is fully presented in all its glory and horror in Saviano’s latest work.
Saviano takes the reader into a journey, as Virgil did with Dante, an appalling trek through hell: showing the cartel’s ruthless political connections and ties to the global markets; at the end of the six chapters the reader will finally piece together the horrifying reality where, for every “El Chapo” Guzman, there is a white collar broker willing to launder dirty money and invest it in the “clean” markets through offshore tax-free accounts. Saviano writes, “The economy of the world we live in is the economy of cocaine.” There is not a clear mark between legal and illegal; it is not black and white but, rather a deep grey stain that is suffocating our societies.
There are no financial investments in the world able to turn in so much profit as cocaine does, not even investing in a company such as Apple: ”in 2012, the year that iPhone 5 and the iPad mini were launched, Apple became the most valuable company in the world [...] it shot up by 67 percent in just one year. If you had invested in Apple € 1,000 [...] after a year you would have had € 1,670. But if you had invested €1,000 in cocaine [...] after a year you would have €182,000.“
According to the Mexican newspaper, El Universal, even “El Chapo” Guzman seemed interested in Saviano’s latest work; in October of 2015 Mexican police found a copy of ZeroZeroZero in the safe house where “El Chapo” was hiding, perhaps reading it to find out how much Mr. Saviano and the investigators knew about his business.
This book is a must-read for people who want to understand the state of the global financial addiction to cocaine trafficking. With ZeroZeroZero, Saviano is able to bring violent realities from Central and South America to our doorstep. This book will make you angry, will make you feel defeated, and even powerless. I have been studying and researching the world of organized crime for over twenty years and Saviano is known as a master of infiltrating and shedding light onto one of the darkest reaches of humanity.
The absurd reality of those who dwell in the world of organized crime is destined to collide with banks as well as the global markets, which makes for great Hollywood dramas. Saviano’s first book, Gomorrah, was made both into a feature film as well as a television series in Italy, and has been recently broadcast on the Sundance channel. Both the series as well as the film represent true horror stories from the streets of Naples, however in keeping with the nonfiction novel concept of dramatizing characters for Hollywood’s benefit. ZeroZeroZero will soon be made into a TV series by Canal Plus with director Stefano Sollima, who also worked on the “Gomorrah” series now in its second season in Italy. The television series allows for a more dramatic, gradual development of the characters and how their daily lives become entwined with their criminal endeavors.
Giuseppe Costa is Professor of Italian literature, language, and cinema at SUNY Stonybrook, where he also teaches classes on Italian organized crime. Born and raised in a suburb of Naples, he witnessed first-hand the crime and violence of rival Camorra clans. In his own research, he has investigated the Mafia enterprise of toxic waste dumping in the southern province of Campania, which has reached catastrophic proportions. He writes, "I have had enough of Dante and Petrarch conferences. I want to know what is going on now in Italy, my students want to know, and they have the right to know.”