IF YOU want to know more about modern Italy then read See Naples and Die, the new book by socialist Tom Behan. It is about the Camorra, the powerful organised crime group that dominates the southern Italian city of Naples. The Camorra has grown because of the huge unemployment rate in the Campania region - 23.3 percent overall and 28 percent in Naples.
It can offer people employment in its gangs, selling contraband cigarettes and drugs, and in various other illegal schemes. In this way it has won the loyalty of tens of thousands of people. The corruption at the heart of politics in Naples is astounding. Politicians of all the major parties still look to the Camorra to provide votes, social control and funding.
The modern Camorra grew out of the devastation caused by the 1980 Naples earthquake and the huge funds sent in for reconstruction. Tom's book shows that the working class resistance to the Camorra that has been seen in recent years is the only real alternative.
Dive into a tale from Ireland 1916
JUST OUT in paperback is At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill. It is a brilliantly conceived novel which tells the story of two 16 year old boys who fall in love on the outskirts of Dublin in 1916. The backdrop is of course the growing mood for Irish independence from the British, culminating in the Easter Rising. Doyler, the more confident of the two boys, comes from a desperately poor background and is a socialist.
He has read James Connolly's Labour in Irish History and wears the badge of Connolly's Irish Citizen Army. Jim, the son of a shopkeeper, is more naive. He is sure in his love for Doyler, but he is also scared of what this might mean. The two make a pact. Jim will learn to swim so that at Easter they can swim to a rock off the coast and claim it for Ireland.
The agreement is lightly made. But as the story progresses it becomes a poignant symbol of what they mean to each other. The Oscar Wilde trial also haunts the novel. One character has just got out of jail after being sentenced to two years hard labour, as Wilde was, for expressing 'love that dare not speak its name'. This, together with the stifling atmosphere of Irish Catholicism that affects Jim particularly, undermines the ability of the two boys to realise their sexuality.
O'Neill clearly has an understanding of gay and Irish politics and history. He also shows a deep understanding of human emotion and behaviour, so all his characters feel very real. I found myself on the edge of my seat, rooting for Jim and Doyler's relationship against their fear and their circumstances.
The novel is romantic, sweet and beautifully written, without being over-romanticised. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.
See Naples and Die: The Camorra and Organised Crime by Tom Behan (£11.99), and At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill (£6.99), are both available from Bookmarks. Go to www.bookmarks.uk.com.com or phone 020 7637 1848.