The Godfather, by Mario Puzo

My Copy: 9780451167712

With the fantastic Academy Award-winning movie a pop-culture staple (that I’d seen at least a dozen times), I have to say I’m not terribly surprised that the book was just as good–if not better.

I was afraid that reading this would lead me to skipping big chunks of it as scenes from the film went whizzing through my head. But boy, the book has so much more. I’m glad The Godfather surpassed my expectations, and I’ll be keeping it.

If you’ve seen the movie, the book follows pretty closely to it, although the pieces of backstory about The Don were the clear basis for his parts in the film, The Godfather: Part II.

The book opens at Connie’s wedding to Carlo Rizzi and introduces the Corleone family (and the “Family”). Nearly every character that will play a role throughout the book is brought up in these beginning chapters, and you get a good feel for who they are. That is, Don Vito Corleone, Connie and Carlo, Sonny, Fredo, Michael, Kay (Michael’s girlfriend), Tom Hagen, Luca Brasi, Clemenza, Tessio, etc. So many characters have a place in this crime universe.

Michael, the youngest son, becomes the one the story follows most. He fought in the war and was never meant to become part of the Family business, but when The Don is shot, he takes revenge and ends up hiding in Sicily. The main story follows his evolution from a young man who never wanted to be part of the Family business to one who becomes the new Don, and the impact this has on everyone around him.

The book is much more diverse than the film, much grittier, and gives a ton of information that helps put you in the world of the Corleone family. Granted, even the epic film had a limited amount of time to dedicate to character development, but there are pages and pages on characters that film viewers would barely remember. For example, the bridesmaid Sonny had his fling with in the beginning has several chapter segments for herself sprinkled throughout the book. Johnny Fontaine, the Don’s famous godson, also plays a larger role in the book than the two scenes the movie gave him.

gdfthrcoll_still_h5_lThe Godfather gives ample room to more fully fleshed-out subplots that tie into the larger story structure through its characters, and delves into the more unsavory aspects of what life was like in the late 1940s and 1950s beyond “Leave it to Beaver-ish” suburbia. So many aspects of a “seedier” life are examined through the characters, such as the rising drug market, gambling, female sexuality, greed, hypocrisy, abortion, and how the characters–in their own ways–embrace violence in their lives, or learn to live with it if they can’t.

There’s a lot there that ties into the power structure of the Family, the good and the bad and how complex it all was. It’s not just a crime family, it serves a somewhat twisted purpose.

Some readers might find the occasional forays into backstory annoying, but it’s not hard to follow and gets back to the point very quickly. I wasn’t confused at all in the reading, and it only took me four days to finish the book–I just couldn’t put it down. The Godfather, even as a paperback might look like a doorstop or paperweight, but you get sucked in and it goes really fast.

Definite recommendation. Even if you’ve seen the movie(s), I think this book will make you love it on its own terms, and love the movie(s) even more.

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