From the author of the #1 international bestseller Gomorrah comes an electrifying investigation of the international cocaine trade, as vicious as it is powerful, and its hidden role in the global economy
In many countries, “000” flour is the finest on the market. It is hard to find, but it is soft, light, almost impalpable—like the purest, highest quality grade of cocaine. ZeroZeroZero is also the title of Roberto Saviano’s unforgettable, internationally bestselling exploration of the inner workings of the global cocaine trade—its rules and armies, and the true depth of its reach into the world economy and, by extension, its grasp on us all.
Gomorrah, Saviano’s explosive account of the Neapolitan mob, the Camorra, was a worldwide publishing sensation. It struck such a nerve with the Camorra that Saviano has had to live under twenty-four-hour police protection for more than eight years. During this time he has come to know law enforcement agencies and officials around the world. With their cooperation, Saviano has broadened his perspective to take in the entire global “corporate” entity that is the drug trade and the complex money-laundering operations that allow it to function, often with the complicity of the world’s biggest banks.
The result is a truly harrowing and groundbreaking synthesis of intimate literary narrative and geopolitical analysis of one of the most powerful dark forces in our economy. Saviano tracks the shift in the cocaine trade’s axis of power, from Colombia to Mexico, and relates how the Latin American cartels and gangs have forged alliances, first with the Italian crime syndicates, then with the Russians, Africans, and others. On the one hand, he charts a remarkable increase in sophistication as these criminal entities diversify into many other products and markets. On the other, he reveals the astonishing increase in the severity of violence as they have fought to protect and extend their power.
Saviano is a writer and journalist of rare courage and a thinker of impressive intellectual depth, able to see the connections between farflung phenomena and bind them into a single epic story. Most drug-war narratives feel safely removed from our own lives; Saviano's offers no such comfort. As heart racing as it is heady, ZeroZeroZero is a fusion of disparate genres into a brilliant new form that can rightly be called Savianoesque.
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Roberto Saviano was born in Naples in 1979. He is the author of Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’s Organized Crime System and has lived under police protection since its publication in 2006. His writing appears in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, and The Times (London).
Virginia Jewiss received her PhD in Italian literature from Yale University, where she is a lecturer in the humanities. Her translations include Melania Mazzucco's novels Vita and Limbo and screenplays by Paolo Sorrentino, Matteo Garrone, and Gabriele Salvatores. Jewiss's translation of Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2007.
The guy sitting next to you on the train uses cocaine, he took it to get himself going this morning; or the driver of the bus you’re taking home, he wants to put in some overtime without feeling the cramps in his neck. The people closest to you use coke. If it’s not your mother or father, if it’s not your brother, then it’s your son. And if your son doesn’t use it, your boss does. Or your boss’s secretary, but only on Saturdays, just for fun. And if your boss doesn’t, his wife does, to let herself go. And if not his wife, then his lover—he gives her cocaine instead of earrings, in place of diamonds. And if they don’t, the truck driver delivering tons of coffee to cafés around town does; he wouldn’t be able to hack those long hours on the road without it. And if he doesn’t, the nurse who’s changing your grandfather’s catheter does. Coke makes everything seem so much easier, even the night shift. And if she doesn’t, the painter redoing your girlfriend’s room does; he was just curious at first but wound up deep in debt. The people who use cocaine are right here, right next to you. The police officer who’s about to pull you over has been snorting for years, and everyone knows it, and they write anonymous letters to his chief hoping he’ll be suspended before he screws up big time. Or the surgeon who’s just waking up and will soon operate on your aunt. Cocaine helps him cut open six people a day. Or your divorce lawyer. Or the judge presiding over your lawsuit; he doesn’t consider it a vice, though, just a little boost, a way to get more out of life. The cashier who hands you the lottery ticket you hope is going to change your life. The carpenter who’s installing the cabinets that cost you a month’s salary. Or the workman who came to put together the IKEA closet you couldn’t figure out how to assemble on your own. If not him, then the manager of your condo building who is just about to buzz you. Or your electrician, the one who’s in your bedroom right now, moving the outlets. The singer you are listening to to unwind, the parish priest you’re going to talk to about finally getting confirmed because your grandson’s getting baptized, and he’s amazed you’ve put it off for so long. The waiters who will work the wedding you’re going to next Saturday; they wouldn’t be able to last on their feet all that time if they didn’t. If not them, then the town councillor who just approved the new pedestrian zones, and who gets his coke free in exchange for favors. The parking lot attendant who’s happy now only when he’s high. The architect who renovated your vacation home, the mailman who just delivered your new ATM card. If not them, then the woman at the call center who asks “How may I help you?” in that shrill, happy voice, the same for every caller, thanks to the white powder. If not her, your professor’s research assistant—coke makes him nervous. Or the physiotherapist who’s trying to get your knee working right. Coke makes him more sociable. The forward who just scored, spoiling the bet you were winning right up until the final minutes of the game. The prostitute you go to on your way home, when you just can’t take it anymore and need to vent. She does it so she won’t have to see whoever is on top or under or behind her anymore. The gigolo you treated yourself to for your fiftieth birthday. You did it together. Coke makes him feel really macho. The sparring partner you train with in the ring, to lose weight. And if he doesn’t, your daughter’s riding instructor does, and so does your wife’s psychologist. Your husband’s best friend uses it, the one who’s been hitting on you for years but whom you’ve never liked. And if he doesn’t, then your school principal does. Along with the janitor. And the real estate agent, who’s late, just when you finally managed to find time to see the apartment. The security guard uses it, the one who still combs his hair over his bald spot, even though guys all shave their heads these days. And if he doesn’t, the notary you hope you never have to go back to, he does it to avoid thinking about the alimony he has to pay his ex-wives. And if he doesn’t, the taxi driver does; he curses the traffic but then goes all happy again. If not him, the engineer you have to invite over for dinner because he might help you get a leg up in your career. The policeman who’s giving you a ticket, sweating profusely even though it’s winter. The squeegee man with hollow eyes, who borrows money to buy it, or that kid stuffing flyers under windshield wipers, five at a time. The politician who promised you a commercial license, the one you and your family voted into office, and who is always nervous. The professor who failed you on your exam. Or the oncologist you’re going to see; everybody says he’s the best, so you’re hoping he can save you. He feels omnipotent when he sniffs cocaine. Or the gynecologist who nearly forgets to throw away his cigarette before going in to examine your wife, who has just gone into labor. Your brother-in-law, who’s never in a good mood, or your daughter’s boyfriend, who always is. If not them, then the fishmonger, who proudly displays a swordfish, or the gas station attendant who spills gas on your car. He sniffs to feel young again but can’t even put the pump away correctly anymore. Or the family doctor you’ve known for years and who lets you cut the line because you always know just the right thing to give him at Christmas. The doorman of your building uses it, and if he doesn’t, then your kids’ tutor does, your nephew’s piano teacher, the costume designer for the play you’re going to see tonight, the vet who takes care of your cat. The mayor who invited you over for dinner recently. The contractor who built your house, the author whose book you’ve been reading before falling asleep, the anchorwoman on the evening news. But if, after you think about it, you’re still convinced none of these people could possibly snort cocaine, you’re either blind or you’re lying. Or the one who uses it is you.
“They were all sitting around a table, right here in New York, not far from here.”
“Where?” I asked instinctively.
He gave me a look that said he couldn’t believe I was stupid enough to ask a question like that. What I was about to hear was an exchange of favors. The police had arrested a young man in Europe a few years back. A Mexican with an American passport. He was sent to New York, where they let him stew in the swamp of the underworld instead of in jail. Every now and then he’d spill some news to keep from being arrested. Not an informer exactly, but pretty close, something that didn’t make him feel like a rat, but not one of those silent as stone types either. The police would ask him generic questions, nothing specific enough to expose him in front of his gang. They needed him to say which way the wind was blowing, what the mood was, rumors of meetings or wars. No proof or evidence, just rumors. They’d collect the evidence later on. But now that wasn’t enough. The young man had recorded a speech on his iPhone at a meeting he’d gone to. A speech that made the police uneasy. Some of them, whom I’d known for years, wanted me to write about it somewhere, to make noise, to see what sorts of reactions it got in order to find out if the story I was about to hear really went the way the young man said it had, or if it had been staged, a little theater piece. They wanted me to shake things up in the world where those words had been uttered, where they’d been heard.
The police officer waited for me in Battery Park, on a little jetty. No hat or dark glasses, no ridiculous disguise. He showed up in a brightly colored T-shirt and flip-flops, with a smile that said he couldn’t wait to spill his secret. His Italian was full of dialect, but I could understand him. He wasn’t looking for complicity of any sort; he had orders to tell me about the speech and didn’t waste time. I remember the story perfectly; it has stayed inside me. The things we remember aren’t stored merely in our heads; I’m convinced that other parts of our bodies remember too. The liver, testicles, fingernails, ribs. When you hear such words, they get lodged there. Each body part sends what it remembers to the brain. More and more I realize that I remember with my stomach, which stores up the beautiful as well as the horrendous. I know that certain memories are there, because my stomach moves. My diaphragm, that membrane rooted at the very core of my body, creates waves. The diaphragm makes us pant and shudder, but it also makes us piss, defecate, and vomit. That’s where the pushing during childbirth starts. Where everything starts. And I’m sure there are places that collect much worse, that store up the waste. I don’t know exactly where that place is inside of me, but I know it’s full. My place of memories, of waste, is saturated. That might seem like a good thing, but it isn’t. Because if the waste doesn’t have anywhere to go it starts worming its way into places it shouldn’t. It thrusts itself into places that collect different sorts of memories. That policeman’s story filled up forever the part of me that remembers the worst things. Those things that resurface just when you start thinking everything’s going better, when you start imagining you’ll finally be able to go home, when you tell yourself it really was worth it after all. It’s in moments like that when the dark memories resurface from somewhere, like an exhalation, like trash in a dump, buried and covered over by plastic, that somehow finds its way to the surface and poisons everything.
The police officer told me that the young man, his informer, had heard the only lesson worth learning—that’s what he called it—and had recorded it on the sly. Not to betray anyone, but to be able to listen to it again. A lesson on how to be in the world. And he let the officer hear the whole thing; they listened together, sharing the young man’s earbuds.
“Now you have to write about it. Let’s see if somebody gets pissed off . . . which would mean that the young man’s telling the truth. If you write about it and nobody does anything, then either it’s just a load of crap from some B-grade actor, and our Chicano friend is making fools of us . . . or nobody believes the bullshit you write.” He laughed.
I nodded without promising anything; I was just trying to understand the situation. Supposedly it was an old Italian boss talking to a group of Latinos, Italians, Italian Americans, Albanians, and former Kaibiles, the notorious Guatemalan elite soldiers. At least, that’s what the young man said. No facts, statistics, or details. Not something you learn against your will; you just enter the room one way and you come out changed. You’re still wearing the same clothes, have the same haircut, your beard is still the same length. No signs of being initiated, no cuts over your eyebrows, no broken nose, and you haven’t been brainwashed with sermons either. You go in, and when you come out, at first glance you look exactly the same as when you were pushed through the door. But only on the outside. Inside you’re completely different. They didn’t reveal the ultimate truth to you, they merely put a few things in their proper place. Things you hadn’t known how to use before, that you’d never had the courage to take in.
The police officer read me the transcription he’d made. They’d met in a room not far from where we were, seated in no particular order, randomly, not in a horseshoe like they do at ritual initiations. Seated like they do in a club in some small town in southern Italy, or on Arthur Avenue in New York City, to watch the soccer game on TV. But there was no soccer game on TV in that room, and this was no gathering of friends. They were all members of criminal organizations, of all different ranks. The old Italian gets up. They knew he was a man of honor, that he’d come to the United States after living in Canada for a long time. He begins talking without even introducing himself; he doesn’t need to. He speaks a bastard Italian, some dialect thrown in, mixed with English and Spanish. I wanted to know his name, so I asked the police officer, trying to sound casual, as if it were a passing curiosity. He didn’t bother answering me. There were only the boss’s words.
Them folks who think they can get by with justice, with laws that are equal for everybody, with hard work, dignity, clean streets, with women same as men, it’s only a world of fags who think it’s okay to make fools of themselves. And everyone around them. All that crap about a better world, leave it to them idiots. To the rich idiots who can afford such luxuries. The luxury of believing in a happy world, a just world. Rich people with guilty consciences, or with something to hide. Whoever rules just does it, and that’s that. Sure, he can say he rules for the good, for justice and liberty and all. But that’s just sissy stuff; leave all that to the rich fools. Who rules, rules. Period.
I tried asking how he was dressed, how old he was. Cop questions, things a reporter or a nosy obsessive would ask, believing that the typology of a boss who’d give this sort of speech can be had in the details. The police officer ignored me and kept on talking. I listened, sifting his words like sand in hopes of finding the nugget, the name. I listened to his words but was searching for something else. I was searching for clues.
“He wanted to explain the rules to them, capish?” the police officer said. “He wanted them to really get into it. I’m sure he’s not lying. This isn’t some lazy Mexican wank, I’m telling you. I swear on my life, even if no one believes me.”
The police officer buried his nose in his notebook and started reading again.
The rules of the organization are the rules of life. Government laws are the rules of one side that wants to fuck the other side. And we ain’t gonna let ourselves get fucked by nobody. There’s people who make money without taking any risks, and they’re always gonna be afraid of those who make money by risking everything. If you risk it all, you have it all, capish? But if you think you gotta save yourself, or that you can do it without jail time, without fleeing, without going into hiding, then let me make it clear right from the start: you are not a man. And if you’re not a man, you can leave this room right now, and don’t even hope to ever become one, ’cause you will never ever be a man of honor.
The police officer looked at me. His eyes were two narrow slits, as if he were trying to see words he remembered all too well. He had read and listened to that testimony dozens of times.
Crees en el amor? Love ends. Crees en tu corazón? Your heart stops. No? No love and no heart? So, do you believe in coño, in pussy? Well, even pussies dry up after a while. You believe in your wife? Soon as your money runs out, she’ll tell you you’re neglecting her. You believe in your children? As soon as you stop giving them money they’ll say you don’t love them. You believe in your mama? If you don’t nurse her, she’ll say you’re an ungrateful child. Listen to what I’m tellin’ you. You need to live, vivir. You got to live for yourselves. It’s for yourselves that you need to know how to be respected, and how to show respect. La famiglia. Respect the people who are...
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