The presentations of Roberto Saviano’s books are never meant to be aimed at the promotion of a book. The writer’s media exposure is bewildering. The advertising campaign, consisting in television, newspapers, the Internet and social networks, is insistent and widespread. The publishing house Feltrinelli lends its bigger book shops in the most important Italian cities for the event, even though the author could make a theatre full. bacio

The presentation ritual: Saviano and his readers

In the days  before the launch an atmosphere of suspense lingers among the readers. The more prudent readers knows it’s better to be at the book shop far in advance. Nine people out of ten won’t find a seat. A couple of hours before Saviano starts talking there is a long queue outside. Journalists come on time to ask those present, “why are you here?”, “what do you like about him?”. The streets next to the book shop are always closed by anti-breakthrough barriers and blocked by police and security vans. The place of the meeting is previously “cleared” by the police. Only after a security control consisting in frisk and metal detector, the people in the queue can go inside. Inside, plainclothes policemen and his own bodyguards blend in with the crowd. These are the necessary precautions to allow a man threatened by camorra (an Italian mafia-type in the region of Campania) to physically interact with his readers.

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Choreography and atmosphere of a literary tour

On 19 October last I was in the queue too, outside the Feltrinelli in Bari for Capethicalism. Roberto Saviano presented his latest work, Bacio feroce (fierce kiss – taken from the behaviour of the puppy, which is able to reveal its adult character: if it licks the owner’s cheek it can’t fight, if it bites, it can). The event was called Bacio feroce Tour.  A tour! In fact, looking around, I didn’t see nothing strange in the use of such a term: the crowd was made of teenagers, young and very young people, men and women equally present. It was like being in the queue for a Radiohead concert. But no, we were there to listen to Saviano.

Many were holding book copies for his signature. We went in bit by bit, until we filled the whole first floor. The photographers asked for those holding the book to wave it upon their heads. The cover of Bacio forte is red ruby. A wave rose and to many it seemed to see again the image of the agende rosse (red diaries – with reference to Paolo Borsellino’s red diary and the anti-mafia movement with the same name), an evocative and at the same time disturbing comparison. Before Saviano, three young people came in aged between 20 and 30 years, born in foreign countries, two in Albania and one in Ethiopia, grown up in our country, but with no Italian citizenship. They took seat among the speakers, next to the chair in the middle, occupied by Saviano. When he was just about to enter, a murmuring ran among the crowd, like the one before the starting of the first notes of a live concert. Finally came he, the writer, the predicator, the rockstar.

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Money is just money: the decay of all values in Saviano’s view

Saviano came immediately to the point. Those presents cannot think to listen to the usual book presentation. “Live the evening as a productive act”, he said. “Today we talk about  birthright citizenship”, he continued. Birthright citizenship? Is this the main topic of Bacio feroce? No, it isn’t. However, Saviano explained the connection. The novel is the sequel to La paranza dei bambini. There are entire neighbourhoods in big cities, such as Paris, London, Berlin, under the control of gangs of kids. For them only money counts. And or money is easy, or is worth nothing. You can easily tell who has money from what they are wearing. They mock those who talk of other values. However, I insist that it is not money that makes our life decent, but personal fulfilment. The journey is what counts, not the destination.

A journey that Italian statutory law denied these young people next to me. In other words, we are losing professional, cultural and emotional capital whether it be a naughty boy (uaglione) from Scampia (a suburb in the north of Naples) to whom put in hand a knife, or an Italian new graduate fleeing abroad, or a boy born as a non-European and obliged to run after his residence permit renewal. When a young person meet obstacles on his way he can be tempted to take dangerous shortcuts, even more if he comes from a disadvantaged environment. “In the novel kids despise their parents because they are honest workers”.

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Civic commitment: screaming out the scandal, lighting the wound

One of the boys asked why the references to the animal world are so frequent in his novels. Saviano answered as follows: “In our society the symbol is a perfect summary and communication on the social media is realised mostly by means of symbols, e.g. the use of emoticons. Also camorra makes use of symbols. Lions, tigers, and panthers represent eros, violence, power. They keep them closed in cages in garages. They get tattoos of numbers behind their heads standing for the first letters of their bosses’ names, e.g. 17=S”. He then highlighted the big difference between someone who works honestly and is exploited, with a wage of 300 euros per month and someone who is in the drug business.

He said, “if I invest one thousand euros in the stock market, if I am lucky, I gain 1200 euros after a year. If I invest the same amount in cocaine I can get back even 180 thousand euros”. What is the counterpart? A low life expectancy. A boss of the camorra is lucky if he turns 20. The rhetoric question is: is it worth it? Saviano overdid it, “we are all southerners here and southerners love the myth, as Corrado Alvaro used to say. Since they can’t change reality, they dream it. In Bacio feroce hoping is task of the reader. I just want to scream out the scandal and light the wound, so that it can heal”. According to the writer, to do so it is necessary to re-experience time, to face complexity, to have thoughtful breaks, to abandon the obsession for the smartphones, to read, to meditate, to argue, not to be satisfied with the surface.

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Mothers, you must stand against snapchat, rich kids and haters!

Another question was about the role of mothers in children’s education. “ I was inspired by many mothers of paranza (children in gangs)”, Saviano said, “some of them had believed that, if the path to goodness had taken to nothing, why not to try the path to evil”. Then came the extreme disillusion with a society going south. “Nowadays kids go crazy over super-rich or rich kids, tax evaders’ or mobsters’ sons, often Russian, who empty champagne bottles they’ve just bought out in the sea. They watch videos on Snapchat without parents being aware of anything. They are negative models, but people like them because they made money with no effort.

Online haters hate those who stands out thanks to their talent”, he said. So how should a mother behave? He answered, “there are mothers who would like to put their son back in their womb to ensure him the only possible protection. I met them. But it would be enough to teach new generations that a failure is never to be considered as a judgment on the individual. It is possible to save children by teaching them that this possibility does exists, the possibility of failure in life, to take them away from wild competition.”

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The fights for birthright citizenship, legality, accurate information

Lastly, Saviano let the three boys talk. Each of them told the story that brought him to Italy. During the debate the comparison between mafia culture and ius sanguinis (citizenship by bloodline) emerged.  After all, Saviano maintained, the mafia organisation is based on blood ties, just like current Italian right to citizenship. In contrast, citizenship should be a story of rights and desires. “During the summer I’ve been fighting a battle for birthright citizenship and many shitted on me, but I don’t care, as far as shit fertilizes”, he added. And urged, “don’t believe in what is said on the media about migration. 97% of European residents are native, there’s no invasion. Migrants landings have not slowed down because of NGOs losing their role, which was not the role of sea taxi, but of sea ambulance.

The same criminal gangs, who before were supporting human beings traffic, are now blocking the flows. Migrants are dying there, in prisons. We are an old country, while Africa is young.  We are like a nursing home placed in front of a nursery”. At this point he waved the legality flag, “law is what we need. Everything that does not come under law is a huge present to criminal organisations. Italy is in the hands of corruption and bureaucracy. Here law dies. Here is the front where to fight”. And he stroke the final blow, “Matteo Salvini (leader of an Italian far-right party), I know that when you will take office you will deprive me of bodyguards. Thank you.”

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Who is Saviano? What are his goals?

It was impossible to count the many times the audience burst into applause during the event. Saviano’s audience came back home full, I dare say entranced. But who is Saviano? A prophet? A fighter? A defender of Enlightenment against obscurantism? Or is he, by contrast, a showman, a cunning person, a rabble-rouser, as his defamers claim? Looking at the young audience present, one certainty remained: Saviano warms the hearts as no politician could do. His proposal is a path of hope and, when he said goodbye with his usual sentence, “thank you for not being afraid”, in me there was the growing certainty that I took part in a rare collective ritual.

Ultimately, is savianism a new cult? Or is it a political orientation good for those uncertain, disappointed and abstentionists? For the time being it seems to be just a path, to quote the author. But what is the destination? Who knows. Only Saviano knows what it means to be Saviano.

ALEXEIN & DAISY

© Capethicalism 2017 – All rights reserved


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