The Piranhas (Hardcover)
The Boy Bosses of Naples: A Novel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374230029, 368pp.
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
In Gomorrah, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year, Roberto Saviano revealed a true, devastating portrait of Naples, Italy under the rule of the Camorra, a crime organization more powerful and violent than the Mafia. In The Piranhas, the international bestselling author returns to his home city with a novel of gang warfare and a young man’s dark desire to rise to the top of Naples’s underworld.
Nicolas Fiorillo is a brilliant and ambitious fifteen-year-old from the slums of Naples, eager to make his mark and to acquire power and the money that comes with it. With nine friends, he sets out to create a new paranza, or gang. Together they roam the streets on their motorscooters, learning how to break into the network of small-time hoodlums that controls drug-dealing and petty crime in the city. They learn to cheat and to steal, to shoot semiautomatic pistols and AK-47s. Slowly they begin to wrest control of the neighborhoods from enemy gangs while making alliances with failing old bosses. Nicolas’s strategic brilliance is prodigious, and his cohorts’ rapid rise and envelopment in the ensuing maelstrom of violence and death is riveting and impossible to turn away from. In The Piranhas, Roberto Saviano imagines the lurid glamour of Nicolas’s story with all the vividness and insight that made Gomorrah a worldwide sensation.
“With the openhearted rashness that belongs to every true writer, Saviano returns to tell the story of the fierce and grieving heart of Naples.” —Elena Ferrante
About the Author
Antony Shugaar is a writer and translator. Aside from Giorgio Faletti’s A Pimp’s Notes, his recent translations include books by Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Silvia Avallone, Nanni Balestrini (with an NEA translation fellowship), Fabio Bartolomei, Massimo Carlotto, Giancarlo De Cataldo, Diego De Silva, Marco Mancassola, Gianni Rodari, and Paolo Sorrentino. He is the author of Coast to Coast and I Lie for a Living and the coauthor, with the late Gianni Guadalupi, of Discovering America and Latitude Zero. He has published with the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and online with the New York Times, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about translation for the University of Virginia Press.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. In the prologue, what is the significance of the sea, the paranzas (fishing boats), and the lampare (lanterns) with regard to the story that follows? Which characters are the fishermen? Which are the fish?
2. What influence do the institutions of church, school, and family have on the paranzini, the boy bosses? Why is the Camorra more appealing, even with ever-present threats of violence and imprisonment?
3. In the chapter “The New Maharaja,” Saviano writes that Nicolas and his friends are not old enough to drive, but nati imparati, born knowing how. What else are the boys born knowing how to do?
4. Nicolas attends school sporadically. His true education happens outside the classroom. What does he learn at the wedding of Diego Faella and Viola Striano? In the courtroom? At the New Maharaja? Who are his teachers?
5. What is Nicolas’s plan for his future? Why does he refuse to follow rules or work for a salary? What are the steps he takes to form his paranza and establish his authority?
6. What qualities does Signor De Marino recognize in Nicolas? What does Nicolas mean by “categories of the spirit” in his essay on The Prince? How is he inspired by Machiavelli’s beliefs about human nature?
7. Nicolas wields the power of ritual, language, and symbolism to cement the loyalty of the boys he has chosen for his paranza. What are some examples? What are their origins?
8. Don Vittorio tells Nicolas that a nickname or moniker is more important than a real name. What does each of the boys’ nicknames say about them? What are Don Vittorio’s criteria for a good nickname?
9. Don Vittorio sends the boys to the penguin exhibit at the zoo to retrieve a hidden weapons arsenal. The penguin episode is comical and grim at the same time. What are other moments of comedy or irony in the book? Are there moments of love or beauty? What effect do these have on the narrative?
10. In the chapter “Turk’s Head,” what is revealed about the boys as they practice shooting their new weapons? Where do rivalries and tensions emerge? Who is strong? Who is afraid? Who doubts Nicolas’s leadership and who accepts him without question?
11. None of the paranzini except Drago come from Camorra backgrounds, but each is recruited by Nicolas for a specific reason. What strengths or potential does he see in each boy? What weaknesses does he exploit?
12. Once the paranzini start making money, they believe they have “figured out the world much better than their parents ever had. They were wiser, more grown up . . . more like men than their own fathers were.” Besides money, what do the boys value? What is their attitude toward the women in their lives—their mothers, sisters, and girlfriends?
13. What damage has been done by the end of the book—to the boys, to their families, to Nicolas? What is Nicolas’s mother’s response to Christian’s death? The last sentence of the book is heavy with foreboding: “Death and water are always a promise. And they were ready to cross the Red Sea.” What is implied about what will happen next?
14. The Piranhas can be read as a perversion of a conventional coming-of-age novel, in which the main characters experience psychological and moral growth. How do the paranzini change as they grow into young adulthood? What are other books, plays, or films with coming-of-age themes or storylines? How does The Piranhas compare?
15. As a journalist, an essayist, and a novelist, Roberto Saviano has written extensively about organized crime, specifically the Camorra crime syndicate of Naples. His work has earned him not only awards and praise but also death threats. He has lived under armed guard since the publication of Gomorrah, his first book. The Piranhas is fact-based, what Saviano calls a novel-essay. How does he use the elements of fiction—setting, plot, character development, etc.—to both conceal and reveal truth?