Goodness, you wait nearly two months for a post and then two come along almost at the same time.

Holidays are, of course, an excellent time to catch up on one’s reading, especially if you throw in extremely long flights at both ends. Thanks to Emirates, (but not so much to Qantas whose range was a little limited) Sue and I watched some excellent movies: “Mr Turner”, Mike Leigh’s film about the painter JMW Turner; “12 Years a Slave” and  “Selma” for example.  Sue would also like to give an honourable mention to “Boychoir” which stars Dustin Hoffman, and to “The Water Diviner” with Russell Crowe. Our joint pick, though, was “Woman in Gold”, a true story about an elderly Jewish woman’s struggle to regain possession  from the Austrian authorities of a famous painting by Gustav Klimt that had been confiscated by the Nazis in the late 1930s. Played by Helen Mirren, Maria Altmann recruits a young, but determined lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) in her quest. Some of the reviews were lukewarm but we both found it moving and inspirational. Emirates was plugging “Furious 7”. We resisted that siren call.

My main reason for writing this post, though, is to laud Roberto Saviano’s latest book, “Zero Zero Zero”. The author is Italian and in 2006 published “Gomorrah”, an exposé of the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia. It was later turned into a film.  For daring to lift the lid on the putrid smell of the underbelly of Italy,  the godfathers  put a price on his head, so that Saviano now has a permanent team of bodyguards from the Carabinieri. I suppose you wouldn’t expect his next work to be a collection of children’s stories but with “Zero Zero Zero”, Saviano has chosen to stay in the underworld rather than pay Charon to ferry him back across the Styx -assuming the ferryman was willing or able to do so. (You might guess from that, that the other book I read on our trip was on Greek & Roman myths and legend). It is about the world of cocaine and is both compelling and depressing. it also made me angry that there are scum out there who not only make huge amounts of money out of  human misery but cause it.  I think it is an important work and that’s why I’m writing this post. For a critique of the book, I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting my comments on it from the Amazon website. For reasons of brevity, I chose not to mention the tentacles of the Russian and Italian mafias that have probed deeply into this particular underworld and which Saviano also describes.

“Welcome to the Sewer”

“The sewer that is all around us. The world of barbarity, evil and also of money, especially of money. It’s the world of cocaine that Roberto Saviano takes us into and, right from the first chapter he is telling the reader that it is all around us. If you live in Europe, as I do, it might be easy to think that the brutal world of Mexican and Colombian cartels is far away and doesn’t really impinge upon us, but Saviano describes how narco money is laundered through western banks with household names and how that money helped finance those banks during the recent GFC.
As he did with his book (and movie), “Gomorrah”, on the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, this book made me both angry and full of despair. That there are so many people who have made themselves super-rich on producing, transporting and selling cocaine to a receptive public, is bad enough but what makes me despair is the thought that all of “our” efforts hardly put a dent in the drug trade that produces those riches.
I would like to hasten the day that sees interplanetary travel. Then, convicted narco-traffickers could be deported to a distant plant. At the moment, as Saviano makes clear, too often, these scum often escape justice through such devices as “lack of evidence”. Saviano, though, has another solution in mind: legalisation. Risky? Yes, but attempts at prohibition seem at present to be a Sisyphean task.
This is a very important book. I just hope that, with the aid of his many 24hr-a-day Carabinieri minders Roberto Saviano’s voice will make a difference in combating the evil he describes here.”


After I had written that review I came across the latest edition of the respected magazine, ‘The Economist’ at a newsagent. The cover article was entitled “The Two Mexicos” and refers to modernity and poverty. The article completely fails to mention the third Mexico, the one where huge amounts of money are made by the drug cartels,  nor does it really say anything of  the slaughter of the innocent and not so innocent that is involved in making that money. There is no mention of the drug barons (why are they always barons?) who have whole governments in their back pocket. The only reference is one sentence on the poor whose lives are blighted by the curse of the drug trade: “Violent, drug-related crime stalks Mexico’s scruffy barrios, where city-dwellers live”.

À Bientôt