“A bridge over the abyss”: Calabria, the gangs and the new generations in the debut novel by journalist Paolo Toscano

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By John

“A bridge over the abyss” is the first novel written by Paolo Toscano, journalist, former editor of Gazzetta del Sud, an expert in criminal matters and for a long time involved in the story of a Calabria “hostage” of the gangs. The volume is published by the Albatros publishing house which has always given space and trust to emerging writers; in Toscano’s case, trust was well placed.

But how does the desire to write a novel arise in a thoroughbred reporter, working for years on the “front line” of Reggio? «A youthful passion has reappeared – explains the author – because as a boy I had written something that in some way resembled a novel then, diving into the world of journalism, I put the passion aside. When I stopped working the desire returned and I started typing again. I drew heavily on my experience as a reporter, delving deeper into and developing stories I had covered.”

The novel recounts the passing of the baton in the ‘ndrangheta from father to son, confirming how in the Calabrian mafia the family is a clan structure. The stickman who is the protagonist of the story exercises a form of absolute power in his territory, privately administering justice, imposing protection money and security, until the scenario changes with the arrival of drugs. At this point, the club leader makes a choice and, as an initially proud opponent of drug trafficking, he understands that taking sides against it is equivalent to being cut off from big profits. Therefore, he puts aside his hesitations and becomes a strong supporter of the new criminal model. The godfather makes a lot of money and seems to be living with his family in absolute comfort: everything goes smoothly until he is betrayed from within and, ironically, by one of the women of the house. In fact, it is her granddaughter, Maria, who, not accepting to live like her mother and grandmother in an eternal condition of subordination and constraint, decides to repent. The outrage for the boss is unbearable because the choice of the joint makes him lose his mafia honor. Don Ciccio Serrano will die in prison without even finding the courage to take his own life.

But what is the message of “A bridge over the abyss”? «It is a message of hope – underlines the author – because the story told makes us understand how even in the most obtuse and difficult environments such as those steeped in mafia subculture, a person capable of freeing himself, distancing himself and reporting can be born.”

The novel also shows how even characters considered, wrongly, by some sections of small and large communities, as invincible “gods” are vulnerable and defeatable people. Toscano highlights all the defects, fears and fragilities of the club leader who does not find the courage to take his own life and ends his earthly days behind bars, defeated and without power. The story is therefore a manual against the phenomenon of emulation that some godfathers generate among the youngest. It is a literary act of condemnation of the diabolical charm that old and new bosses exercise, very often, on the communities of which they are the “masters”.

The novel does not lack references to ferocious wars and clashes between gangs. Don Ciccio Serrano, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, founder of the most important ‘Ndrangheta family of Montebruno (imaginary place), does not hesitate to conflict with a rival gang that seems to put the ancient mafia dominion over the town at risk. The ambushes follow one another, generating a bloody struggle which, however, cannot end with winners and losers: families distribute death and suffer mourning according to the tragic waltz of corpses that has sullied the true history of Calabria for decades.

“A bridge over the abyss”, which at times recalls the first novel of regional literature on the ‘ndrangheta – “The Montalbano family” by Saverio Montalto – is the plastic representation of a still looming reality which, however, compared to the last century has suffered hard blows from a repressive point of view and significant lashes from a cultural point of view due to the awareness-raising work developed with determination in schools and among the population.
For men like “Don Ciccio Serrano” life is much more difficult today than in the past. Fortunately.