Set in the decade of the second World War, the Godfather is a pretty entertaining story detailing the parallel universe and power structure of the Mafia operating in the United States.
The novel chronicles the life of Don Vito Corleone, as a young boy who is forced to flee his hometown of Sicily to his emergence as “The Godfather”, head of one of the most powerful Mafia families to operate in the country.
The book starts with introducing several secondary characters who are Italian immigrants. Each of them grappling with some major upheaval in their lives or dilemma that they need help with, they reach out to the Godfather. With this, the author gives us a hint of what lies sprinkled throughout the book in generous amounts – a shrewd and strategic use and redemption of favours by the Godfather.
It was pretty fascinating to read about how each Mafia “Family” functions, runs their family business(es) and operates with a well-defined and established chain of command.
Don Vito appoints two men, Clemenza and Tessio, as his Caporegimes (heading a group of men, or “regime” thereby acting as both a conduit and buffer between the men and the Don) and Tom Hagen as his Consigliere who acts as his advisor and representative in meetings. We are introduced to his family, comprising of his wife, three sons, (Santino, Frederico, Michael), daughter (Constanzia), son-in-law, Carlo Rizzi and his Godson Johnny Fontane, a singer past his prime and trying to make a successful debut as an actor.
Santino is hot-headed and impulsive, Frederico is indecisive and more of a follower than a leader. Both join their father’s family business readily, with no thoughts of any other career options of doctors, engineers or lawyers in the civil society. Michael is the reluctant one, rebel of the family, who enlists in the Marine Corps during the war, much to the displeasure of his father. However, Puzo is quick to affirm that the Don sees his youngest son as his most suitable successor.
As the story progresses, Michael comes to the forefront and ends up making the decisions that decide the fate of several characters in the book’s final pages.
The book is divided into several parts, with some parts used to shift the narrative back to some of the characters’ origins. I loved Don Vito’s backstory where we learn how he ends up getting acquainted with Clemenza and Tessio. I would have liked the denouement to have packed in a bit more punch though. The author alludes to a “master plan” thought up by the Don that he is holding back to prevent a full-scale war among the mafia families. I just found it unbelievable that the way the Corleones strike back in the end didn’t have any repercussions.
This is one of those “guy-novels” where the female characters don’t impact the storyline. The women in this novel are the spouses who act as child-bearers, the abused partners, the mistresses, the prostitutes, or mid-wives.
My hubby recommended the book, and I was initially hesitant to start reading. I was in the mood to try something on the lines of “light-reading” and not too many classics set in the 1940s fit that criteria. The prose is quite simple and Puzo does a good job of telling a story set in this alternate world of laws, oaths and justice. Definitely worth a read!