Tue, Oct 03, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Naples fights mafia with first bookshop in 50 years


In the hinterlands of Naples a revolution is afoot: Locals tired of drug lords are taking the fight to the mafia, and their weapon of choice is the humble book.

Tucked away between squats and roadside traders of broken toys rises the first bookshop in nearly 50 years.

The concrete sprawl of Scampia, a bastion of the ruthless Camorra organized crime group, was immortalized in the 2006 bestselling book Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano and in a popular spin-off film and television series.

One of the poorest areas in southern Italy is attempting to cast off the stereotype of Kalashnikov-wielding teens and get its young off the streets by flooding the turf with theater, cinema and literature associations.

The tower blocks, riddled with asbestos and divided by rubbish-strewn no-man’s-lands, were thrown up in the 1970s.

“There has never been a bookshop here. We had to travel 10km to buy a book,” said Rosario Esposito La Rossa, whose shop Scugnizzeria opened a week ago.


The idea for the small store, which also has a room for theater and study groups, followed the death of La Rossa’s disabled relative Antonio, caught in the crossfire of a 2004 shootout and labeled a trafficker by the state.

“He was hit by two bullets as he played table [soccer], but police said he had links to the Cali cocaine cartel in Colombia. We fought for 10 years to clear his name and it became a cultural battle for our neighborhood,” he said.

When La Rossa inherited the Marotta&Cafiero publishing house in 2010, he moved it to Scampia to continue the fight.

“There were those who said we would close within a few weeks because no one reads in Scampia, it has the highest illiteracy rate in southern Italy. Seven years on and we have published 88 books,” he said.


The 29-year-old is just the tip of an iceberg of change slowly edging its way across the northern suburb of Naples.

The government has pledged to demolish three of the four remaining Sails of Scampia, notorious tower blocks shaped like sails where staircases boast metal gates installed by traffickers to slow down police during raids.

University of Naples Federico II, one of the world’s oldest, is set to open a new faculty in the area — although the project is running three years behind schedule — and tentative plans are also underway to refurbish the metro.

However, La Rossa says the most important role is played by the 120 or so associations that step in where the state fails.


Daniele Sanzone cofounded Scampia Trip Tour to challenge the area’s brutal image in the press and popular culture and to show off its positive side.

“The Camorra exists, the drugs exist, we would be mad to deny it, but there is so much more, small organizations which become garrisons of legality,” from soccer clubs to Italy’s first Italian-Roma restaurant, he said.

The tour has been a hit so far with everyone from US tourists to Italians normally too scared to enter Scampia.

“Ten years ago it was known as the biggest open-air drug market in Europe, but things have changed a lot since then, largely due to a blood feud in 2006 which left hundreds dead and sparked a police crackdown,” he said.

“Before there was drug trafficking every 50m. Today we can walk in the streets without fear,” he added.


The associations can only do so much for the 80,000 to 100,000 inhabitants, many of whom live off the radar and only about 37 percent of adults of working age have jobs, Sanzone said.

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