Tuesday, October 18, 2022

I’m Still Alive, Roberto Saviano’s Graphic Novel

The recent attempted assassination of Salman Rushdie should shame the liberal west for its complacency. We took for granted the Ayatollah’s fatwa, just because it had yet to be executed. Turns out the danger to Rushdie and liberal ideals like freedom of expression and the free press were still very real. Rushdie is not the only one living with long-term death threats. The same is true for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Orhan Pamuk, and Roberto Saviano, but Saviano has the distinction of being the only one of the forementioned not facing potential assassination from Islamists. It is the Camorra that issued his death sentence. Yet, he continued to live and write, as he describes in his autobiographical graphic novel, I’m Still Alive, illustrated by Asaf Hanuka.

Much of Saviano’s life since the publication of
Gomorrah is defined what he has not been able to do, including visiting family or having any kind of romantic relationship. It all clearly wears on Saviano. He openly expresses regrets and doubts whether it was all worth it. Yet, it is hard to imagine him doing things differently, if he had the chance, for reasons going back to his formative years, when his beloved parish priest was executed for standing up to organized crime.

Some of the most pointed excerpts target his fair-weather supporters, who feel threatened by his uncompromising journalism. The graphic novel would have been well along the publishing process by the time Rushdie was attacked at Chautauqua, but it would be the perfect rejoinder for suggesting Saviano should just “move on.” Online trolls constantly suggest he is just seeking attention or money, but there are much easier ways to get the former—and Saviano has little opportunity to spend the latter.

Since so much of the graphic novel explores Saviano’s memories and subconscious, the art is crucial for conveying the emotional tone. Fortunately, Hanuka’s art is quite striking—and vividly expressive of his interior monologues.

The irony Saviano never mentions is that the Camorra built
Gomorrah into a much bigger deal by making him such a public target. It is unlikely the book would have otherwise sold millions of copies and spawned an acclaimed film and TV series. Frankly, that is also probably why his graphic novel has been translated and published for the North American market.

To riff on a familiar expression, a free press is not free. We have to stand up to coordinated efforts to censor through intimidation, be it physical violence or intolerant ideologies. When serious writers like Saviano and Rushdie are silenced, we are all impoverished. Saviano never speaks in such terms in his graphic novel, but the point needs to be made. If you want to understand the repercussions for journalistic integrity in Naples, read
I’m Still Alive, which is now on-sale at book and comic retailers.