Marlon James at the PEN American Center writes about the Mean Streets panel at New York’s World Voices Festival, with Jo Nesbo (Norway), Roberto Saviano (Italy), Christian Jungersen (Denmark) and Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Colombia).
Funnily enough it was Saviano, the only writer dealing explicitly with non-fiction, who reminded us that the very notion of the hero or villain depend on a number of things, not the least of which, who is telling the story. Growing up in Naples it was the Mafia that were the heroes, the men who by their glamour, wealth and bravado embodied the heroic ideal. Or at least the ideal man to look up to. It was bound to appear in a panel dominated by men, the confession that heroism and masculinity seemed too tightly intertwined, that the hero himself is the very masculine archetype. Saviano was quick to support and dispel this theory at once, pointing out how these very mafia types drew for exaggerated fictional types on which to model themselves—a mafia man who built his house in an exact replica of Tony Montana’s in Scarface, or made men, practicing lines from The Godfather; uncanny cases of real people drawing from fiction to appear more real.