The Godfather is considered by many to be one of the greatest crime films of all time, with a star-studded cast that included the likes of Marlon Brando as the charismatic man himself, a young and dashing Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton. When it hit theatres in 1972, it was an instant blockbuster, becoming one of the top 25 highest grossing films in America. Decades later, the movie is still considered to be one of the most influential films of all time.
But before the film propelled the gangster movie genre to fame, it all started with an amazing story. Written by an Italian-American writer called Mario Puzo.
Vito Corleone is what they call a Don: an Italian-American Mafia boss in New York who is feared by his enemies and loved by all who pledge allegiance to him. He is their ‘Godfather’, caring for the people and serving them the justice robbed from them by the American system. All sorts of people come to The Don to have their problems solved – whether they need a citizenship for a young Italian lad about to be deported, or to loan money for a small business, or even to ‘persuade’ someone to agree to a deal. In return, he asks for their absolute friendship and loyalty, which the Don may demand at any time.
Trouble brews in New York as the Five Mafia families fight a mob war for influence and power. After a failed negotiation with ‘The Turk’ Solozzo, a gangster who wants to persuade the Corleones to dabble in drugs, the seemingly invincible Don is shot and confined to a hospital.
His two sons, Santino and Michael, must step up and help run the business with the help of the family advisor, Tom Hagen. While Santino is bloodthirsty and brutal, Michael is quiet, intelligent and initially reluctant to have anything to do with the family business.
When Solozzo sets up another ‘trap’ to assassinate the Don at the hospital, Michael’s quick thinking saves his father – but he is forced to flee America after killing Solozzo and a corrupt police officer. The incident unleashes a full-scale war which leaves Santino killed and Michael finally taking up his destiny as head of the family.
With simple, gritty language, Mario Puzo delivers a world where justice is not always written in black and white. Spanning across two generations, the novel kicks off with the Don at the height of his power, followed by his attack by rival factions which cause a turmoil in the underworld and finally his retirement and eventual death. In the latter half of the book, Michael takes up the mantle as main character, as the Don’s role is slowly phased out as advisor, then happily retired ex-Mafia boss who prefers pottering around the garden and enjoying life’s spoils.
What I like most about the novel, apart from superb storytelling (which never has a dull moment!), is how the characters come alive with their distinct personalities. The Don’s charisma, Sonny’s deadly ruthlessness, Michael’s quiet intelligence and suppressed anger – they all seem to radiate off the pages. Even minor characters have their own stories to tell but never in an annoying way that has no bearing to the story. For example, Michael’s short love affair with Apollonia, which ultimately leads to her murder, is a short but important part of the novel which explains why Michael turns into the Don he is to become.
It’s also an interesting insight into the underbelly of human society, one which has coexisted with daily life for decades – the Mafia. In every seedy corner lies a secret (and sometimes not so secret) world – one of drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling and…murder.
Score: 9/10. Good read, kept me up many nights 🙂