I cannot believe that despite being such a voracious reader, it took me as long as it did to read this book. I mean, this has been on my reading list ever since I watched the movie, but it’s only now that I got around to reading it. Probably it’ll be another century before I buy it.
The Corleones, headed by Don Vito Corleone, are the most powerful Mafia family of New York. The Don is highly revered, but his unshakeable code of conduct annoys many people. So when the Don turns down a drug smuggler Sollozzo’s offer of partnership, Sollozzo, with the help of another family, the Tattaglias, decides to take out the Don. This drags the Corleone family into a bloody war, and Michael Corleone, the youngest son of the Don, who had till then removed himself from the Don’s nefarious activities, must step in and get his hands bloody.
The only Mario Puzo book I had read before was Omerta, and while I liked it, I wasn’t ecstatic about it. But Godfather met all my expectations and more. It’s a mind-blowing story about a powerful man, and the “family” he controls. I fell in love with Puzo’s complex plotting and his ability to sketch this huge canvas filled with diverse people, from mafia chiefs to movie stars, from peasants to princes. The characters are very well fleshed out, and their back stories are the most interesting parts of the book, where you see how they became what they did. This is something the movie doesn’t manage to do quite fully, and is one of the reasons why I liked the book so much. There is a lot of sexism in the book, the women are hangers-on more than anything else. I also found the writing to be a little soap-operatic, especially in the portions dealing with Michael’s exile in Sicily, but that complaint was short-lived when the story moved back to the Corleone family in New York.
What I found absolutely fantastic was the way the Don was depicted in the book. He is a cold-blooded murderer, a chillingly dangerous man, but when you read about him, you feel you’re reading about a strict but lovable uncle. He is an honourable man, one who lives by a strict moral code and values friends a lot. In the words of Michael,
My father is a businessman trying to provide for his wife and children and those friends he might need someday in a time of trouble. He doesn’t accept the rules of the society we live in because those rules would have condemned him to a life not suitable to a man like himself, a man of extraordinary force and character. What you have to understand is that he considers himself the equal of all those great men like Presidents and Prime Ministers and Supreme Court Justices and Governors of the States. He refuses to live by rules set up by others, rules which condemn him to a defeated life. But his ultimate aim is to enter that society with a certain power since society doesn’t really protect its members who do not have their own individual power. In the meantime he operates on a code of ethics he considers far superior to the legal structures of society.
Puzo doesn’t glorify the Mafia, he doesn’t gloss over the criminal aspects of the Corleone family. He presents to you both the deadly side and the family side of ceive him as. You know the Don directly or indirectly killed many people, but admire the way he dispenses justice to one and all. You respect the way he built his own life, you like his calculating mind, which is both unemotional and passionate at the same time. My favorite bit is when Puzo describes the Don’s analysis of his first criminal act. It’s cruel, but weirdly fascinating.
If he did not kill Fanucci, he would have to pay the man seven hundred dollars cold cash. Fanucci alive was not worth seven hundred dollars to him. He would not pay seven hundred dollars to keep Fanucci alive. If Fanucci needed seven hundred dollars for an operation to save his life, he would not give Fanucci seven hundred dollars for the surgeon. He owed Fanucci no personal debt of gratitude, they were not blood relatives, he did not love Fanucci. Why, then, should he give Fanucci seven hundred dollars?
And it followed inevitably, that since Fanucci wished to take seven hundred dollars from him by force, why should he not kill Fanucci? Surely the world could do without such a person.
But the greatest revelation was Michael Corleone. His transition from the soft-spoken war veteran to the equally soft-spoken Mafia chief was a brilliant one. His tactical brilliance at ending the war and restoring the Corleones their position was an awesome one. The ending was smashing, as multiple storylines collided together, all the different threads were wound up so well. Al Pacino’s face kept floating into my head at every step, and I realized, as I read the book, what a great job he’d done.
Godfather is a classic, a novel I believe everybody must read once in their lives. Have you read it? Do you agree with me?