The Honored Society by Petra Reski

An intriguing and sensational, but not sensationalist, study of the Italian Mafia through character sketches.

Petra Reski had covered the Mafia as an investigative journalist in Germany for years, to the minimal interest of her editors and readers, who considered it an Italian problem. Then, in 2007, six Calabrians were executed in the town of Duisburg, and suddenly the German public was interested in the Mafia.

In The Honored Society, Reski composes character studies of various players both within the Mafia and fighting against it, based on her reminiscences of meetings and interviews. In addition to mafiosi and police investigators, her subjects include public prosecutors, defense lawyers, priests, fellow journalists and Mafia wives and daughters. Accompanied by her cabbie, Salvo, and her photographer, Shobha (as well as Shobha’s mother, a famous anti-Mafia photographer in her own right), Reski travels the streets of Italy and recalls the personalities she’s known. Her sketches of these “bad guys” and their adversaries are intimate and contemplative, rooted in years of experience. Even while excoriating the actions and influence of the Mafia, she seems to feel respect, even affection, toward certain individuals, revealing a conflicted relationship much like the one she describes between the Italian public and its famous criminal organization.

Generally, Shaun Whiteside’s translation of Reski’s work (from the German original of 2008) reads as straightforward, simple prose; but a quiet poetry lurks in certain turns of phrase and carefully crafted images. The Honored Society is an unusually structured view into the strange and powerful world of the Italian Mafia.


This review originally ran in the January 15, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 6 expensive handbags.

One Response

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