Book Review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Book 91

Tyrant, blackmailer, Racketeer, Murderer – his influence reaches every level of American society. Meet Don Corleone, a friendly man, a just man, a reasonable man. The deadliest Lord of the Cosa Nostra. The Godfather.

A modern masterpiece, The Godfather is a searing portrayal of the 1940’s criminal underworld.  It is also the intimate story of the Corleone family, at once drawn together and ripped apart by its unique position at the core of the American Mafia.  Still shocking forty years after it was first published, this compelling tale of blackmail, murder and family values is a true classic.

The Godfather is Mario Puzo’s tale of the fictional Corleone crime family and it is set just after the second world war in New York State.  The book is split into several stories about various members of the family, almost like a collection of short stories rather than a continuous storyline.  Mario Puzo’s writing style is easy to read and all the characters seem well thought out with thorough back stories and meaty storylines.  The book does tend to go off on a tangent every now and then, and I didn’t see how the subplots contributed to the main storyline overall, but it was still enjoyable to read.  However it is quite a biased view of the mafia in the sense that there is only ever one side to each story, the characters are shown more as businessmen following their own set of laws rather than as criminals of any kind.  There are no repercussions from the law and the general society for anything that happens and there are no characters in the book that would represent a view of the mafia from outside the family.  Even though nothing is, in a sense, sugar-coated, the book to me represented a view of the family as they would want to be represented, a piece of mafia propaganda if you will.  That does not take away from the book, but you definitely get a sense of missing a piece of the picture.

What I liked about this book:  Mario Puzo portrays New York’s criminal underworld beautifully.  He doesn’t linger too long on describing anything that is particular to that period; instead he concentrates on the storyline as if the characters could be in any period of the last century, the period does not have much bearing on the story being told.  There are references to what is going on in the world outside the mafia but there is a perfect balance between the fictional side of the storyline and anything factual that needs to be told.  It feels as far from a history lesson as you can get with a book that is set 75 years ago.  Yet the events of the book are presented in a realistic light; there is no doubt that this is how things happened and probably do still happen today to some degree.

What I didn’t like about this book:  I felt that there could have been more of a continuous storyline.  The book spans almost a decade, so yes you need to have some of that cut out, but I felt there was too much missing from when Michael returns and the end of the book.  I felt the first story reels you in and then you are left hanging all the way until the end.  The other storylines are good, but a bit more of Michael learning the family business would have made it a more satisfactory story.

I can see why this is such an iconic book.  The tone of it is perfect as it depicts this dark, moody underworld that is ruled by power rather than democracy and is so intriguing you want to read more and more.  None of the main characters are two-dimensional; they all have a dark side as well as a good side even though they may be lacking in some morals.  The only thing letting this book down is that it starts too well and doesn’t quite carry that through.  I would still recommend it to anyone who has a penchant for this genre as it is the ultimate classic mafia book and the ideas and characters in this book resonate through so many other books, films and tv programmes that have followed in its path.

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3 comments on “Book Review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

  1. Pingback: Meet the Author: Victorine Ndinda « Literary Chronicles

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