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.