- Date: 1969
- Author: Mario Puzo
- Genre: Crime, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Drama, Classic
- Rating: 5/5
- Date: 1972
- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- Screenplay: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
- Rating: 3.5/5
The novel is the best crime book I’ve ever read. A combination of historical fiction, drama and thriller, I would consider this as a timeless classic. The level of character depth and wit is just top-notch. The film, however, ruined The Godfather for me. I didn’t expect the film to match the book in terms of intensity, but unfortunately, I did not even enjoy it. The film left out a lot of details and implications that I couldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t read the book.
Keep reading to see my full review and analysis!
The novel is divided into 9 books (sections), each told from a perspective of a different character. It is through these perspectives that the reader can understand the history of the main characters, where they come from and why they do what they do. The story revolves around the Corleone Family, run by Don Vito Corleone (aka the Godfather) until his eventual downfall. This Family is one of the few organized Mafias in America – and one of the most powerful ones. The Mafias consider themselves a separate entity as equally, if not more, powerful as the government.
The plot picks up the Family when it’s in conflict, and we’re shown all the negotiations, bloodsheath, deaths, and more negotation, that goes on before everything can be settled once again. It all gets more complicated when important people conspire agains the Corleones and end up murdered, because then the desire for vengeance is real.
I went into this book with barely any knowledge of what a Mafia is, and some snippets of historical references – such as alluding to Al Capone – put this novel into perspective. This novel is set around the 1940’s and 1950’s, and though as a 21st century person I felt frustrated by the fact that communication between parties was so hard to arrange back then; but I was also surprised by how swiftly they organized their meetings and organizations nevertheless.
Corleone was one of the biggest Mafia men in the country with more political connections than Capone ever had.
The language really captivated me. Mario Puzo is an American author, but of Italian descent. I could see his Italian accent permeate through the paper, especially because the Corleone Family is Italian as well. (And this was just perfect for me, as I’m currently learning Italian myself as well) Though this particular use of language made the novel less linguistically flawless, it did help establish a suitable Italian-American ambient for this novel.
There are so many central themes in this book that entranced me. Weirdly, understanding how and why the Mafia Families exist enabled me to see the corruption of politics. These Families exist because they don’t believe in society, they don’t believe that they will get the lives they think they deserve. And so they take the matter into their own hands. I learned about the traditions and customs of the Mafias. Just like a government has its own set of laws and rules, so do the Mafias. These rules include not relying on the public legal system to solve your problems and the role of ‘friendship and loyalty’ (I put them in apostrophe because these connections are basically bound by chains of favors, not voluntary friendship).
The Corleones, by making their way up in society because they know that the government is not fair, are actually representing the corruption in society themselves. They exploit their power and connections to get what they want. They disregard hard work, education and everything that an individual can do to get the best life possible, and replace that with negotiations, money and influence. It’s an exaggeration of how organizations run today in our society, really.
“Never get angry,” the Don had instructed. “Never make a threat. Reason with people.” The word “reason sounded so much better in Italian, ragione, to rejoin. The art of this was to ignore all insults, all threats; to turn the other cheek.
Oh, the characters. I could easily go into depth for each one, but I think it’ll be more efficient if I analyse them based on rank:
- The Family men. This includes Don Vito Corleone and his sons, mainly. They run the Family business – that is, they run the oil business and make the schemes to get ‘unreasable’ people killed. Don Corleone is the most respected character in his circle, as he built up his empire on his own. Though none of his sons match Don Corleone’s strength and intelligence, Michael is the closest one to his father.
- The loyal men. Like the name suggests, this includes those loyal to the Family – by ‘loyal’, it means that Don Corleone has helped them with a favor in the past, a favor that they must return. Don Corleone has a lot of loyal people surrounding him, as he believes in helping not only his family, but also his family’s friends and those who come to the Don for friendship.
Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.
- The enemies. Those who have a certain amount of power, and/or those who are not willing to accept the Corleone’s negotiations. They usually end up dead, or mourning over the dead of a close one. There are a lot of them in this novel, and it will surprise you who they are in the end.
…a friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your results.
There’s also the women of the novel. This includes all the wives and/or girlfriends of the main characters. In the novel, they are established as understanding, strong and supportive women with unconditional love towards their partners. They have no say in the family business whatsoever – it’s roughly 70 years ago, after all. This puts them in a tight situation, and those who choose to stay with their husbands, knowing the danger of their jobs, have to be incredibly emotionally strong. There are good husbands like Don Corleone, and cheating bastards like Sonny and Carlo (Connie’s [Don’s daughter] husband). Though the men have to deal with the ugly business and bloodshed, their primal savage sex instincts are still there. It was horrible reading and watching these parts.
I apologize if this book review was slightly confusing. There are so many things to talk about, and I tried to find the balance between revealing the important details, but not so much as to spoil them completely (if you haven’t read the book yet).
The movie disappointed me. I believe it tried to replicate and respect the novel as much as possible, but it was merely impossible for it to captivate the multiple perspectives and give all characters the attention that they deserved.
(*Spoiler alert*) I was particularly disappointed by the ending, when Mike becomes the new Don Corleone. He became from a respectable Dartmouth man, to this stubbornly empowered man by the end. It doesn’t even end like the book, where there’s at least some sense of closure for the characters. Nope. Nothing. The tender love Mike had for Kay Adams in the book was nowhere to be seen in the film, which leads me to my next point:
The lack of female presence in the films. Oh, the women might as well not been present. It seemed like they tried to implement them at the beginning of the film, but then pushed aside their development as the film went on. They became solely concubines, wives and mothers – without any of the love that a man should give. Without the novel, I could not have understand what the women were thinking throughout the film.
Maybe it’s because I’m ignorant about the 20th century film industry, or maybe it’s because I watched the film after I had started reading the novel. Either way, I did not enjoy the film’s screenplay nor character development. By cutting out scenes from the book and making the film more obscure, I was not able to fully appreciate Mario Puzo’s art. I’ve always liked books more than the film adaptations, but this is one example where I find the contrast incredibly obvious.