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The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The Godfather (original 1969; edition 2005)

by Mario Puzo

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7,586125450 (4.16)210
Title:The Godfather
Authors:Mario Puzo
Info:NAL Trade (2005), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:trade, fiction, mafia

Work details

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969)

  1. 10
    The Sicilian by Mario Puzo (longway)
  2. 10
    Gem of the prairie : an informal history of the Chicago underworld by Herbert Asbury (ashleylauren)
  3. 00
    Leopard in the Sun by Laura Restrepo (joririchardson)
    joririchardson: Colombian literature that could be described as "The Godfather" re-written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  4. 00
    Stiletto by Harold Robbins (ashleylauren)
  5. 01
    The Pack by C. W. Schultz (GeekyRandy)
    GeekyRandy: No real relevance. Both are about gangsters and comes from a neutral POV. "The Pack" is also obviously influenced by "The Godfather". I love both books, perhaps you will too.

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I'm one of the few people I know that has not watched Francis Ford Coppola's film classic The Godfather. When a co-worker promised that "The movie was good, but the book was better," I decided to test the thesis.

And, indeed, I wonder if I'll ever need to even try the movie after reading The Godfather. As written by Mario Puzo, The Godfather is something that pulls you in, grasps you, and demands you pay attention. Pay attention as the Godfather builds his empire, plots against his rivals, and establishes plausible deniability, all set on a foundation of Sicilian honor, omerta, and business. Pay attention to a world where the highest value is loyalty and where blood is thicker than love, a chauvinistic world where men rule over their women and where women refrain from asking too many questions.

It's almost medieval. And yet, there are statements here, commentary by author Mario Puzo about the environment in which the Sicilian mafia like that of the Corleone family rose. But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

The Godfather opens right in the middle of things. We are at the wedding of Don Corleone's daughter Connie to Carlo Rizzo. The whole family has gathered at "the mall" to celebrate. Here are the Don's sons: Sonny, who is mean, dangerous, and carnal; Fredo, the middle child destined for mediocrity; and Michael, the one most like his father, but straight-laced and, almost scandalously, a war hero in love with a non-Italian girl from New Hampshire. Also present is the rest of the cast of The Godfather: the caporegimes Clemenza and Tessio, the assassin/bodyguard Luca Brasi, and the consigliere, or advisor, to the Don, Tom Hagen, himself an oddity as the only non-Sicilian of the lot. Each is given a story in his or her own time, a backstory that makes the fabric of the tale colorful, sturdy and vibrant.

It is a highpoint for the Family. Favors are sought from the Don, and the Don is beneficent and gracious as he dispenses his largesse. And yet, peril threatens. The Family's power and wealth come from its control of the vices of gambling, prostitution, and alcohol in various boroughs of New York and a new vice is arriving that will force the Corleone's to consider the future: illicit drugs. When the Don decides he does not want to leverage the Family's control of politicians, police, and judges to participate in the drug trade, a bloody war between the Sicilian mafia families begins that guides the narrative for the rest of the book. The war, and the Corleone's reach, will extend from New York to Hollywood and will track the rise of Las Vegas from the desert to become the gambling and entertainment destination that it is today. Here we will see scenes and read lines famous even to those who have not seen the movie: "go to the mattresses," "make an offer he cannot refuse," and find a when a horse head is a threat that cannot be ignored, among others.

It many ways, the story is sordid, as are its characters. And yet, Puzo gives reason to sympathize with the Don, with Michael, with Kay, and others. These characters are, before all else, humans and Puzo emphasizes the familial bonds that tie them. They are a group of individuals that will go to war for each other and that can trust each other with their lives. Even as Puzo manages to engage is characters in almost every vile and disgusting vice under the sun, he never loses track of the thread that keeps these individuals tied to each other and creates sympathy for characters that are as honest and true to what they claim to be as if they were modeled after real world individuals.

(Indeed, as I did a little reading about the history of the novel, I stumbled across claims that the character Johnney Fontane was allegedly modeled on Frank Sinatra, who himself was said to have close ties to the mafia. The story goes when Mario Puzo was introduced to Sinatra, the crooner refused to look at him or acknowledge him, standing only to yell at the author as he left. Whether true or not, it sure makes for interesting reading, and it's had to read certain sections of The Godfather and not see similarities in Johnney Fontane to Frank Sinatra.)

All this leads back to a question that arose as I arrived at about the halfway point in the book. By then I found my sense of disgust at the lack of moral compunction of many of the characters begin to overwhelm Puzo's gripping narrative. Here were characters that would betray or beat their wives on their wedding night, greedily fueded and kill to establish and strengthen "business" holdings--really just control of gambling "books," prostitution, and smuggling rackets--and did not bat an eyelash as pornography, pedophilia, adultery (and its unmarried companion fornication), abortion, public corruption, alcoholism, sex operations, assassinations, and more. With heroes like these, who needs antagonists? And, indeed, why keep reading? Where is the redeemable protagonist? I began to realize that at the center of The Godfather we find the morally upright Michael, the man who will not be part of the family business, but who will go his own way, become a war hero, and become, perhaps, something better and more honest.

Or will he? As the story unfolds and Puzo takes opportunities to spin side tales of woe and wickedness, the Corleone's saga becomes increasingly Michael's, and it is not a story of redemption, but of tragic fall, for a tragedy it is. In the end, The Godfather is a story of moral decline even as the Corleone's climb to new heights. The reality of the seduction of power, in both Puzo's and Lord Acton's estimation, is that it corrupts.

If Puzo tells us nothing else, it is that the price of loyalty is that one must sometimes give up other virtues for the security and strength that comes with imposing your visions and reality on the world. But this isn't all that Puzo has to say. In here also is an examination

But this isn't all. In The Godfather is also is an examination of the time and place that gave rise to the mafia, the influx of migrants in pre-Great Depression America, the corrupt and unpoliced police, and the powerful doing what they will while the weak did what they could. Into this chaotic milieu come individuals like Vito Corleone, fleeing decaying "Old World" Sicily, find opportunity and find themselves at odds with the law as they begin by defending the weak only to become the strong man they once opposed. In a time where the rule of law and increased transparency has made public and police corruption much more the exception than the rule, it is perhaps hard to imagine that there was ever a time when it was different; and yet, in the pages of Puzo's bestseller lies a world that is entirely credible and, perhaps, just as likely as it seems.

As literature goes, Puzo's style is heavily expository, but not in a way that fails to recognize when dialogue and action should replace description and exposition. Puzo is telling a story, and it feels like a story is being told. It is a story that is unforgettable, as much for its cautionary lessons as for the sordid world that The Godfather seems to insist existed--exists?--in some version of 1940s and 1950s America. It is a tale that could belong in the past of any great family that has clawed its way to power by criminal means, only to begin the next generation clean and in respectability. It is a very American story, if not the one that fits the modern mythology.
( )
  publiusdb | Jan 10, 2017 |
A book that inspired the remarkable films: A book that almost matches the films for its exhuberant, violent, thought-provoking, dark portrayal of a fictitious American crime 'Family'. ( )
  tommi180744 | Dec 28, 2016 |
Set in the 1940s and 1950s in mostly New York, the Corleone family is at the heart of a well organized crime ring. Vito Corleone, the Don of the family, keeps his fingers in all the local businesses, legal or otherwise. He’s always a gentleman, holding manners and respect in high regard. However, not everyone else holds to his old Sicilian ways. When war breaks out between the Corleone family and another crime lord, known as the Turk, manners are left in dirt.

Even though I haven heard quite a bit about The Godfather (book and movie) over the years, I had never experienced either. It was a bit of a whim that I picked this book up and I’m glad I did! This story was so much richer than I expected. I’d heard people talk about all the violence in the movies (and indeed there is violence a plenty in this book), but I had not come across anyone who talked about the depth of this novel. I really enjoyed how much Puzo put into the main characters. Vito Corleone, who plays such a vital role in this book, is a vibrant man who comes from a culture of strict rules concerning respect. His children, Sonny, Fredo, Mike, and Connie, are all Americanized and don’t share all of their father’s cultural norms. Of course this clash of cultures becomes a key piece of drama for the book.

I was quite taken with Tom Hagen, the family’s in-house lawyer. He was informally adopted as a kid when he followed one of the Corleone kids home. He didn’t have a real place to stay, so Vito’s wife made him feel right at home. Tom is always so patient and elegant. He knows that he’s not of the family, not being Sicilian or even Italian, and yet he knows the Don best. He was often the glue that kept the family together. His informal adoption into the family is just one example of how giving the Don can be.

While the women of the story are wives, sisters, mothers, and sex objects, Puzo does give them a little more depth than I expected. I found myself taken with Lucy Mancini, though not at first. Initially, she really is a sex object, however, in the later half of the book she meets up with Dr. Jules Sagal in Nevada. Now I was quite surprised that the book went into so much detail about Lucy’s unusually large vagina, what causes that, and how to fix it but I also applaud the author for doing so. This is something that is interesting but may also serve to enlighten people about a little talked about medical issue.

There is plenty of violence throughout the story, but not nearly as much as in today’s action flicks. Also, I felt that the author did a good job of portraying realistic outcomes of each violent episode. I did feel a bit for the horse but I also understood that the Don was making a statement without the loss of human life. Then later on, the wife of one of the sons is accidentally murdered and that was a little bit of a tear jerker. Each violent episode brought some emotion out of me.

Finally, let’s talk a little about Johnny Fontane, the Hollywood star and godson to Vito Corleone. He has this life that’s been strongly influenced by the Don and yet he lives this very different and separate life out in California. I found his life a bit sad and a little dramatic. He’s surrounded by other stars who all have egos as big as his. Yet he finds his most satisfaction in visiting his ex-wife and their two children. They have an unusual and yet very practical arrangement. As side characters, I found them pretty interesting.

All in all, this novel (which was first published in 1969) was more than I expected. I’m sure several bits of this book were considered taboos in 1969 (Lucy’s large vagina, Johnny’s irregular relationship with his ex-wife, etc.) and perhaps are still considered a bit rude to talk about in public these days. The character depth for the main male characters was unexpected but definitely appreciated. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Vito’s back story. Puzo definitely caught my eye with this classic novel and I will be reading more of his works soon.

The Narration: As you can see, there’s a huge list of narrators; full Cast directed by Michael Page: Dan Price, Lorna Johnson, Don Stroup, Terry Bozeman, Richard Lavin, Amy Sunshine, Larry Brandenburg, Rose Nadolsky, Peter Syvertsen, Jane Brody, Bob O’Donnell, Joe Van Slyke, Marie Chambers, Si Osborne, Chuck Winter, Charles Fuller, and Malcolm Rothman. Sometimes I liked that there were so many voices since this book has a sizable list of characters. However, sometimes it was clear that some parts conversations were recorded with the narrators at different times. I sometimes found that while one character was dramatically narrated, the other character in the same conversation would sound much more down to Earth. So the performance as a whole teeters on that edge between radio drama and a decently narrated novel. Quite frankly, I think I would have preferred a version narrated by 1 or perhaps 2 people. ( )
  DabOfDarkness | Nov 14, 2016 |
Beautifully written, caprtivating story, marvellous character development. I was so into the book that I barely ut it down. ( )
  Kanwal | Oct 4, 2016 |
Classsic Puzo! A must read! ( )
  LauGal | Aug 16, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Puzo, Marioprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bart, PeterAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bennett, HarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thompson, Robert J.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wijk, Johan vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Behind every great fortune there is a crime. - Balzac
For Anthony Cleri
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Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court No. 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0451205766, Paperback)

The story of Don Vito Corleone, the head of a New York Mafia family, inspired some of the most successful movies ever. It is in Mario Puzo's The Godfather that Corleone first appears. As Corleone's desperate struggle to control the Mafia underworld unfolds, so does the story of his family. The novel is full of exquisitely detailed characters who, despite leading unconventional lifestyles within a notorious crime family, experience the triumphs and failures of the human condition. Filled with the requisite valor, love, and rancor of a great epic, The Godfather is the definitive gangster novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:05 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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