Authors rally against underworld death threat

The book he wrote unleashed a death threat against him. Ever since its publication he has been living in hiding. His name? Not Salman Rushdie, but Roberto Saviano.

In 2006 Saviano published "Gomorrah," an examination of the Camorra (the powerful Neapolitan crime syndicate). The nonfiction work is a book so hard-hitting and chilling that it has been called "a literary scream."

Not surprisingly, "Gomorrah" did not go down well with Naples's crime bosses and Saviano was placed under a death threat. He has been living in hiding ever since.

Now, several high-profile British and American writers are joining a drive launched by six Nobel-Prize winners (including peace laureates Mikhail Gorbachev and Desmond Tutu) to collect signatures on a petition that urges the Italian government to do more to protect Saviano. American writers Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Safran Foer and British authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan are among 100,000 signatories of that petition.

Salman Rushdie, who lived for years under an Islamic death threat, told the press last week that Saviano was in far greater danger than he had ever been.

Saviano, who is only 28, has seen his book, which has been translated into 42 languages, become an international bestseller. A screen version of "Gomorrah" won second prize at the 2008 Cannes film festival and is now in contention for an Oscar.

But for Saviano, who is a native of Naples, "Gomorrah" is more than just a piece of journalism.

“I have always hated [the Camorra], a personal hatred, not just an intellectual one,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. “It is a very personal hatred because they ruined my country, forced people to emigrate, killed honest people.”

Does he ever regret having written the book? Often, he confessed in an interview published in the Guardian. But, he says, quoting something his father once told him, "If you don't scare anyone, you haven't really succeeded."

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