After writing Gomorrah, about the Neapolitan mob, Saviano had to go into hiding. He’s been living under police protection ever since, but continued to write about crime and justice and corruption. His new book, Zero Zero Zero, covers the global cocaine trafficking economy and its corrosive effects on the normal functioning of everything it touches.
He writes stirringly about Mexican cartel battles, about the daily struggle to survive as a noncombatant in Juarez and Sinaloa, about the rise and fall of smuggling empires. Tiny details come into focus with amazing clarity – I was bowled over by the fact that at the height of its powers, one cartel was spending thousands of dollars a month on rubber bands just to bundle all its cash.
But the writing tends to be overly poetical and polemical, and the editing and translation seem not to have done any favors to Saviano’s style. What was urgent and fierce in Gomorrah has faded to bombast. It reminds me of the mid-20th-century Latin American political/literary criticism, things like How to Read Donald Duck, which bring a distracting and counterproductive emotional freight to every word.
I mean, there’s some brilliant reporting here, but there’s also a poem about the many names of cocaine. A long poem. It isn’t very good, even by the standards of poetry about drug slang.