Review by Ian Keogh
In 2006 journalist Roberto Saviano published Gomorra, a novel detailing the control of Naples by the Mafia, and how that impacted on the local population. In promoting it at a public event he identified and called out leading members of the crime families asking them to leave the area. Predictably, they didn’t take kindly to the request and made him a target. Some might see it as needlessly provocative to then publish an autobiography with a taunting title.
Despite presenting a list of things worth living for, one can even legitimately speculate whether it’s an attempt at suicide by gangsters as Saviano details his life since calling out the Mafia. He’s under constant police guard, moved from one safe home to the next, accompanied by a dog trained to sniff out explosives, and public appearances are few. The matter of fact way he relates numerous plots to kill him that never came about is horrific. There’s a definite ego transmitted through the text, but strident and possibly irritating aspects of Saviano’s personality shouldn’t diminish in the slightest that he’s right. We learn early the incident that changed his life was not considered beforehand, but spur of the moment on seeing who’d attended his appearance.
Much of what Saviano writes has few concessions for graphic narrative, and at times it seems as if Asaf Hanuka is adapting statements rather than working from a script, so an absolute requirement is an imaginative visual metaphor. Many are slyly funny, such as the Saturday Night Fever reference. Hanuka’s a precise artist with an attractive style that communicates well, occasionally inserting himself into the narrative to question Saviano about some aspect of his explanations or recollections. Good use is made of colour. Sepia is applied to indicate the past, and grey by far the most prominent to indicate the day to day monotony of life under threat.
Saviano quotes literary greats freely in drawing comparisons with his situation or feelings, yet given his circumstances which of us would deny him this vanity? At the end of the day we’re being educated by his torment. I’m Still Alive is a fascinating insight into a life few of us would want to live.