On my radar: Roberto Saviano’s cultural highlights

The investigative journalist and author of Gomorrah on the delights of Mozart, the restorative tranquility of Andalusia and a lifelong love of Subbuteo

Roberto Saviano is an Italian author best known for his 2006 book, Gomorrah, a no-holds-barred exposé of organised crime in Italy. Born in Naples in 1979, Saviano studied philosophy and started as a journalist in 2002. After the publication of Gomorrah, which was made into a film and then a TV series, he received death threats from the Comorra crime organisation and was placed under police protection; he still moves around constantly to avoid detection. Saviano’s other books include ZeroZeroZero, about the cocaine trade, and the novel Savage Kiss, which is out in paperback now, published by Pan Macmillan.

1. Music

Mozart’s Don Giovanni

Mozart: ‘A sensual delight.’ Photograph: Stock Montage/Getty

Music accompanies every moment of my life. A life which, since I’ve been living under guard, has become a solitary one. The long journeys in armoured cars, the hours in army barracks where I’ve been put up over the past few years; the time spent writing, even reading and studying: it all has a soundtrack, Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I listen to it constantly, that moment when the Commendatore orders Don Giovanni: “Pentiti scellerato! Repent, you rogue!” And Don Giovanni replies: “No, no, I won’t repent. Get away from me!” So there I feel like Don Giovanni. “My heart, my breast is set, I have no fear…” Listening to Mozart and the libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte is a sensual delight.

2. Film

I Lost My Body (dir Jérémy Clapin)

‘I sense that the protagonist lives like me’: I Lost My Body.
‘I sense that the protagonist lives like me’: I Lost My Body. Photograph: AP

It’s a bleak animated film. The hand of the protagonist Naoufel, which he has lost, spends the whole film trying to reconnect with his body, but it’s been cut off, severed. When you lose a fundamental part of yourself, you can’t expect it to return to its place sooner or later; nothing is mended, you have to keep going forward. And the memory is unbearably painful. It’s not true to say that suffering improves you, because it doesn’t feed you or allow you to improve your life. I sense that the protagonist lives like me, like all of us who keep developing new strategies for being in the world when we’ve lost parts of ourselves.

3. Place


The Guadalquivir River in Córdoba, Andalusia.
The Guadalquivir River in Córdoba, Andalusia. Photograph: Sean Pavone/Alamy

My ancestors fled Córdoba in 1492, which may be why I always want to be in Andalusia. It’s my place, the only place I’ve been happy recently. I was also given the freedom of Seville some time ago. I wish someone would give me the opportunity to go and live there for 10 years, 20 even, with the sole intention of forgetting myself. In Seville, a few years ago, I tested my ability to reinvent a life for myself elsewhere. I put on a black curly wig – to look like Maradona, maybe – and big dark glasses. I walked around for hours unrecognised. But I wasn’t me, and that couldn’t be my freedom.

4. Food

Amalfi lemons

‘Lemons are the food of happiness’: Amalfi lemons.
‘Lemons are the food of happiness’: Amalfi lemons. Photograph: Tim Hill/Alamy

A few days ago I had some spaghetti with lemon. Yes, that’s right, spaghetti with Amalfi lemons – there’s nothing in existence that combines grain and fruit like that. If you’re ever lucky enough to go to the Amalfi coast, eat pasta with lemon. Lemons are the food of happiness, and you can (you must!) eat Amalfi lemons whole. Pulp and peel, juice and aroma, all remind me that I come from the south of Italy, that I belong to a land that is both hell and heaven, that has extremely powerful criminal organisations, the antibodies to oppose them and the restorative balm for when you take a breath to prepare for a new battle.

5. Hobby


‘The heady thrill of playing football’: Subbuteo.
‘The heady thrill of playing football’: Subbuteo. Photograph: Radharc Images/Alamy

The pleasure of playing Subbuteo: we – the generation born in the late 1970s – are the only ones who can have enjoyed it. After that, it was only computers and screens. Those tiny men that move around, pushed by your index finger, those games conceived and constructed on a green cloth, make the game of Subbuteo the closest thing there is to battles with toy soldiers. But it wasn’t a war, it was the heady thrill of playing football, of having a pitch in your bedroom. If you’ve never played Subbuteo you can’t know the beauty of having a stadium and two football teams under your own bed.

6. Books

Shadow State by Luke Harding; Kleptopia by Tom Burgis

Shadow State by Luke Harding.
Shadow State by Luke Harding. Photograph: HarperCollins/Harper Collins

I’ve got a lot of books right here in front of me, I’m looking at them as I try to choose the one I feel has changed my life more than the others. There are two of them in fact: Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West by Luke Harding and Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World by Tom Burgis. Two outstanding writers, stuck in the beating heart of political and criminal power, sinking their teeth in and never letting go. The books I love are the ones that don’t make you feel safe, that are not comfortable, that when you finish them make you want to kick down your front door, run into the street and shout: everything needs to change. Let this shitty world come to an end, and let something different start at last!

As translated by Shaun Whiteside


Roberto Saviano

The GuardianTramp

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