Mark Bowden reviews Roberto Saviano's ZeroZeroZero for the New York Times.
Roberto Saviano has written a kind of concordance of cruelty in this cocaine-trafficking epic, minus the alphabetized structure, which would have made it easier to follow. Much of it, sadly, may be true.How much is an open question.
The second chapter begins with the story of Don Arturo. We never learn exactly who this is, beyond the first name and the honorific. He is like a character out of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” a rich old patriarch who in his younger days grew poppies for morphine production. Saviano writes of the day a general arrived at Don Arturo’s Mexican estate and set fire to his growing crop. Don Arturo watched the flames grow higher, incinerating live animals and even some peasants who had fallen asleep in his fields. While villagers feared the flames too much to attempt a rescue of their burning neighbors, the story goes, a dog braved the conflagration to pull its puppies to safety: “He remembers because it was there he learned how to recognize courage, and that cowardice tastes of human flesh.”
Neat sentence. Memorable passage. But did this actually happen? Is there really a Don Arturo? Field of flames? Brave dog? What in this sometimes compelling, often tedious assortment of parables, poetry, dramatic monologues, cautionary tales and horror stories is true, and what is fantasy?
The cool answer, I suppose, is that we shouldn’t care.A word about Saviano. Because of the work he did on his acclaimed first book, “Gomorrah,” he lives under constant guard. His life has been threatened by people who follow through. Some of the best passages in this book deal with these profound restrictions on his freedom, and with his determination to persevere.
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