Tuesday, August 25, 2009

228. The Godfather – Mario Puzo

History: originally published in 1969. Much controversy surrounds the title of the book and its underworld implications. Although it is widely reported that Puzo was inspired to use "Godfather" as a designator for a Mafia leader from his experience as a reporter, the term The Godfather was first used in connection with the Mafia during Joe Valachi's testimony during the 1963 Congressional Hearing on Organized Crime
Plot: The plot deals with a gang war fought between the Corleone family and the other four of the five families of New York. After Don Vito Corleone is shot by men working for drug dealer Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo, his two sons, Santino and Michael must run the family business with the help of consigliere Tom Hagen and the two Capos Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio. When Sollozzo and an Irish police captain are murdered by Michael, the conflict escalates into a full scale war which results in Santino's death and Michael, despite his wishes, ascending to the head of the family. He slowly becomes more ruthless than his father, even killing his brother in law Carlo Rizzi, who played a part in Santino's murder. Also as the story progresses many of the minor characters, such as the Don's godson Johnny Fontane and his friend Nino Valenti, Sonny's former girlfriend Lucy Mancini, and Michael's bodyguard Al Neri, are expanded on and given their own subplots. Many of these subplots are not included in the movie. The novel culminates when Michael has his two main enemies, the novel's main antagonist, Emilio Barzini and a lesser but still severely important antagonist, Philip Tattaglia, assassinated. After the total elimination of the Tattaglia Family and Barzini Family, Michael sells all his business in New York and makes the Corleone Family a legitimate business in Las Vegas.
Review: Written in an acerbic Mafia vernacular, and read at turbo-charged speed, Puzo delivers a gritty, yet oddly romantic look inside the mechanisms of the "Family". While repulsed at the violence inflicted among its members, we remain spellbound in spite of it. Mario Puzo manages to write the characters so well that when Carlo Rizzi is beating up Don Corleone's daughter, you want him to get hurt, or when Santino Corleone dies and Lucy Mancini is distraught because she is carrying his child (a plotline that was only explored briefly in the films, but has an entire chapter dedicated to it in the book). Puzo seems to bring each character to life. He also lets the reader in on the secrets of the inner workings of the "family business". The book is better than the film.
Opening Line: “Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.”
Closing Line: “Then with a profound and deeply willed desire to believe, to be heard, as she had done every day since the murder of Carlo Rizzi, she said the necessary prayers for the soul of Michael Corleone.”
Quotes: "Y ou're taking it personal, it's just business and you're taking it personal."
Rating: Good

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