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The Piranhas

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Member Reviews

These are the true stories of local kids in towns who join mafia organizations at lower levels and then work their way up. Written as a tale.

Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.
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a foray into fiction by the ever-fascinating journalist, Roberto Saviano  --  the author of Gomorrah returns to Naples for his novel of gang warfare and a young man’s dark desire to rise to the top of Naples’s underworld.
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Nicolas Fiorello is only fifteen when in Naples the forces between the clans are severely shaken. He is clever, his teachers have realized this already, and he is a naturally born leader. He sees his parents working hard every day and getting nowhere, this is not the life he dreams of. So what he does is fill the gap that has opened up. He creates his own paranza, a group of boys who are going to take over first the quarter, then the whole town. With an initiation ritual he binds them to him, he negotiates hard with the clan elders and thus the group of boys become the most feared clan in their neighbourhood.

Roberto Saviano knows the Italian mafia well, he has written several books on the clan structures of his native country and for many years now he has lived under police protection since he made himself enemy number one of the mafia. “The Piranhas” is a fictional work that nevertheless gives deep insight in how life works in those parts of Italy that are controlled my mafia clans and it is easy to imagine that something like a youth gang could actually take over and terrorize a community.

His protagonist Nicolas isn’t the classic “bad boy” as you know him. Actually, he is quite sympathetic and his cleverness speaks for him. The way he plans his next steps, how he can oversee the whole process of creating and leading a group, his ideas of creating sense of belonging by using rituals and imposing strict rules and punishments – that’s just impressive. You hardly realise that he is only a boy and supposed to go to school and just worry about his first girls friend. On the other hand, is seems to be far too easy to buy weapons, to get in the drugs business and to become the leader of the most feared pack. I cannot really say if this is authentic and credible since I do not have the least clue about these things. 

The plot is cleverly constructed towards a final showdown, the characters are interestingly drawn and the topic surely is still as relevant as it has been for many years now.
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I just couldn’t get on with this novel, and didn’t enjoy it.  I’ve no doubt that it reflects life in contemporary Naples and the author clearly knows what he’s talking about. His depiction of the gangs of young people whose only aspirations are to becomes drug dealers, make a lot of money and rise in the Camorra hierarchy is hard-hitting and disturbing. The narrative centres around Nicolas, just 15 years old, but already hardened to the violence, brutality and crime that surrounds him. He’s the ruthless ringleader of his “paranza” and will stop at nothing to gain power for himself and his gang. Based on real events, it’s an excoriating exposé of Naples sub-culture. But as a novel it’s simply too relentless. The violence may be true to life but it becomes tedious reading about it. None of the characters have any redeeming features, and there are too many of them to keep track of, especially when their circumstances and attitudes are so similar. The dialogue is pretty convincing, but again becomes tedious in its sameness, and I felt that the inclusion of Italian dialect added little. All in all, I lost patience with it and found myself skipping bits. Saviano writes well, but for me this step from journalist to novelist didn’t quite come off.
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Saviano has chronicled the tale of a group of teens in Naples, Italy who aspire to be criminals.  Hmm.  It's dark and gritty and there are lots and lots of characters.  Unfortunately, I did not find any of them sympathetic enough to follow.  Intriguing but not my cup of tea and I dnf.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  While I did not like it as a novel, this might actually make a very good movie.
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COMING TO A CABLE STATION NEAR YOU!!

Listen this is a "based on true" novel with the main protagonist Nicolas who decides to go for it all at a terrible cost.  This one will remind you that man truly is evil first and not good.  A violent disturbing story of crime that may be closer to the truth than you would expect.  GREAT JOB!!
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The Piranhas by Roberto Saviano-I remember a younger time when "The Blackboard Jungle" talked about teenage violence.  Then "The Warriors" came along, and I thought things couldn't get much worse, but this story, abet a true telling, is so much scarier than any Hollywood Youth Gang film.  Kids in Naples just want to have fun and kill a few people along the way.  Very gritty and relentless, with few redeeming qualities, watching Nicolas fight his way to power.  I enjoy some true crime stories, and I know reality can sometimes be harsh, but to wade through this book is an exercise in literary masochism.  The writing is very well done, it's the subject that suffers.
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Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

	There is a tendency to romanticize the mob.  Whether it is the fault of The Godfather movies or something more else, many people feel a certain affection for the mob.  Perhaps it is a sense of loyalty or of family. Who knows?  It is mostly a love for violence and mayhem, for instance in Scarface. 
	But that’s all Hollywood.
	There are certain things that buck the trend – say The Wire, which is about drug dealers but also about the culture that allows them to exist and how policing is not the solution.  There’s Saviano’s Gomorrah, a book which earned him a target on his back, but that also demolishes any romance for the mob and forces people to confront the truth (this is also true of the movie and tv series that the book produced).
	Saviano’s latest mob book, The Piranhas, is one of those novels supposedly based in true events.  I’m not sure; I don’t know enough about Italy and the mob to say so.
	However, if the fourth season of The Wire is the best because it looks at how a failing school system sets up its students for failure, then Saviano’s book does the same thing for Italy.  The story follows a group of boys, led by Nicolas, who want to become Camorra bosses.  In part, this is a result of the steady diet of media they consume, and in part, it is because of what they see every day, who controls everything, and how everything in their world works.  They can become like some of the fathers, but the boys do not seem to view those men as real men, but as simply weak.
	And that something these boys cannot be seen as, for they want to be in the ones in the private room.
	What the book then chronicles aren’t the corrupting of the innocent, but how a presence of crime combined with social media and status lead a group of boys to become, not so much men, but young people with guns.  The boys can’t be corrupted because that happen long ago, and nothing different is really shown to them.  If it isn’t the Camorra controlling something it’s the better neighborhoods or towns controlling something, acting like the Camorra without the official illegality.  Even the teachers are in on it, for that is simply life.  Those that do not join, simply do not anything really.
	It is a bleak novel, a harsh novel, and one without a true hero.  The reader cannot root for, isn’t suppose to root for, any of the young boys who despite their bravo are still boys.  Still, at times, think the Camorra is simply as it is in the movies (which do make for the truly funny passages of the novel), yet who do have a degree of flare and intelligence needed to pull things off.
	Yet, we need novels like this, in the bleakness, because we need to confront what is wrong in society and why we glorify criminals who don’t really have that many redeeming features and whose actions murder innocence and hope.  At least we need to, if we want to break the cycle.  It is violent but it does not celebrate violence the way that many movies do.  No, it is far more personal  than that.
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The Piranhas takes place during the twenty-first century in Naples, Italy.
Nicholas has always been fascinated by the organized crime world. His idea of success was to be the head of an organized group. His father wanted him to go to America or England to attend an esteemed school. But, Nicolas, later known as, Maraja, was content in Naples. The gang world was his life. The only thing Nicholas hated, was reporting to someone. His goal was to have his own paranza. 

The Piranhas is a distressing story about teenagers growing up in the organized crime world. The leaders of the crime families were like royalty. The boys idolized them. Witnessing brutal killings, drug deals, and generalized lawlessness was part of their life. 

I had a difficult time getting through this novel. There are a lot of characters in this book. Trying to remember the characters, crime families, and Italian phrases sprinkled throughout the novel was overwhelming. The story, although interesting, is quite disturbing.  

Thank you,  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Publishing, and NetGalley, for my advanced review copy.
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