I had always known about the mafia in Italy. I remember visiting Naples in 1989. Back then when the mafia still ruled, the piazza in front of the main train station was a creepy place. I remember feeling lots of eyes on us as we nervously walked around. It certainly didn’t feel welcoming.
Fast forward 29 years and things are dramatically different – but a lot of the change is very recent.
The mafia’s existence has always been associated with Southern Italy. We all know about the Cosa Nostre in Sicily, but the seldom heard of ‘Ndrangheta is the mafia clan of Calabria. This group, founded more than 150 years ago is one of the richest and most powerful in the world. It runs 70% of the drug trade in Europe, sells illegal arms around the world, and has a staggering amount of wealth. It is all carefully hidden behind a façade of crumbling ruins and poverty in the Calabrian region.
This book follows the events which were sparked by the murder of ex-mafia wife Lea Garofalo in Milan in 2009. Lea was under a witness protection scheme along with her daughter Denise, after leaving her mafia boss husband Carlo. State prosecutor Alessandra Cerreti realised that the way to bring down the ‘Ndrangheta was to get to other women of the clan and persuade them to testify against them. It was not an easy task – the ‘Ndrangheta was a tight group, the risks were high and the punishments brutal. Power was totally in the male domain. For a woman to speak out was incredibly dangerous – even deadly.
The sheer size of the investigation team at work, the techniques they used and the number of mafia members that were arrested is staggering. It took years of investigation to break up the mafia strongholds. Italy’s prisons are now brimming with mafia family members and associates. Slowly Italian society has managed to break away from the bribery and corruption that were an accepted part of society.
It’s a fascinating and eye-opening read. You will never look at Italy the same way again.
Reviewer: Rachel White
HarperCollins, RRP $36.99