Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Published: March 1st 2002 by NAL Trade (January 1st 1969)
Goodreads Summary: More than thirty years ago, a classic was born. A searing novel of the Mafia underworld, The Godfather introduced readers to the first family of American crime fiction, the Corleones, and the powerful legacy of tradition, blood, and honor that was passed on from father to son. With its themes of the seduction of power, the pitfalls of greed, and family allegiance, it resonated with millions of readers across the world—and became the definitive novel of the virile, violent subculture that remains steeped in intrigue, in controversy, and in our collective consciousness.

The Godfather is without contest a classic of mafia literature. Mario Puzo the creator of this chef d’oeuvre reinvent the genre though the notorious Corleone family. The Godfather possesses the usual elements present in any criminal book: murder, gore and immorality. However Puzo was able to incorporate some sort of sensibility in his story. 

He involved the readers in both the Corleone’s business life and personal life, something very rare for this type of book, especially at the time it was published. The point I’m trying to make is that, the reader doesn’t only see Sonny Corleone want to whip out the Barzini family (another crime family and the Corleones' main enemy in the book), you also see him trying to protect his little sister from her abusive husband.

In The Godfather, we meet Vito Corleone, a first generation Italian immigrant who made a fortune in the olive oil business (well that’s what he claims anyway). Truth be told, Vito is the Don (boss) of one of the most prosperous criminal family in New York, the Corleone. He’s very influent, and has a huge number of judge, officers and official representative under his palm. He has three sons and a daughter. All have a role in the story, though not necessarily explicit. 

Sonny is the eldest and Vito’s second in command, Freddo, the second son is kind of useless, but a good follower and Connie, the youngest in the family is a daddy’s girl who marries the wrong man. As for Michael, the third son, he is the one who resembles his father the most, yet he’s doesn’t want to have anything to do with his family business.  Michael went to college, he fought in the Vietnam War and received an award for it, and he’s dating a middle class college educated American girl.  He does everything in his power to detach himself from his family's and community's lifestyle.

Despite what the first pages might led people to believe, Michael is truly the main character and hero of the novel. The story is about how he will fulfil his destiny and take over his father seat as head of the Corleone family. The opportunity to do so arise after the Corleone’s patriarch is sent to the hospital after having been shot by two men working for another crime family, the Barzini. A shocked Michael decides to help his elder brother Sonny, now de facto leader, avenge their father. Somehow I can’t help thinking that Puzo created a sort of twisted coming of age book.

I really enjoyed The Godfather. It wasn’t a long read and it was completely different from the novel I usually pick. Its biggest strength’s was the characterization. Each character had a well-defined personality and voice. That’s why it’s easy to emphasize with them. The plot is also intelligently crafted. I was quite taken by the whole mafia business. However I can’t say that it was perfect. 

Puzo wrote a chunk of scenes under some the secondary character's point of view which didn’t relate at all to the plot. I wonder if he did that in order to increase the novel volume as it would have been quite short without them. But even if it’s the case, I still can’t see the point. Furthermore, it felt at times as if he wanted to pen his characters as good people which they aren’t, no matter how you look at it.

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