That’s exactly the feeling I get as I attempt to review The Godfather. Whether I am smart enough to do a good job of it, I do not know. However it looks like I’m foolish enough to try.
What does one say about a book that portrays the grim underbelly of a post World-War New York, a rustic idyllic Sicilian country-side and the gaudy, vicious Hollywood and Las Vegas with equal finesse and mastery? Like a master artist who paints a picture as a combination of sharp incisive brush strokes and hazy smoky textures, Mario Puzo has written The Godfather as a mélange of hard-hitting episodes and grey ideologies and characters. And the effect is, for the lack of a better word, awe-inspiring.
The book starts off on a comparatively lighter note. Yet you do see the glimpses of the power packed ride ahead. Don Vito Corleone, the Godfather, reigns over his empire like a firm but benevolent emperor. The New York Mafia world, complete with its power structures and organizational hierarchy, is described in such minor and explicit detail one can almost imagine the Godfather sitting at his all-powerful throne in Long Beach, New York, deciding over the fates of lesser people. I do not claim to have read much, but from whatever exposure I have to the literary world, I can safely say Don Corleone is one of the most impressive, dignified anti-heroes ever. The force of the character stays with you, long after you’ve turned the last page. His razor sharp intelligence and his far sighted statesmanship, his love of his family and the sheer coldness with which his orders for the devastation of his enemies just makes you wonder at the complexity called Don Vito Corleone.
His son Michael Corleone, is similarly though a tad less impressive. His graduation from a would-be professor to the Boss of the Organization and successor of the great Don, forms one of the premises of the book. That Michael is like his father is evident from the word go, but the way the character develops and unfolds before your eyes is one of the things that makes ‘The Godfather’ a legend.
However its not jus the leads that is instrumental in making this an epic. Even the secondary characters have as much a place in this story. The Don’s right hand, his Consigliere Tom Hagen, his brutal but strangely lovable (well to an extent at least!) eldest son Sonny Corleone, Michael’s college sweetheart and second wife, the all American Kay Adams, the Don’s one man equivalent of nuclear fire-power, devilish Luca Brasi ; the list is pretty much endless.
The story starts off with the Don Vito rejecting a proposition for distribution of narcotics. The ensuing attempt to assassinate the Don, a deadly game of death and supremacy amongst the Mafia families and the double murder by hitherto clean and neutral Michael sets the tone for the book. As a consequence, Michael becomes a fugitive in Sicily (in the process managing to acquire a young Sicilian Italian bride and the ways of great Sicilian Mafia Chiefs) , Sonny is killed and the powerful Don rises from his sick bed to take reins of the situation. However strangely enough, there is no retribution for his enemies, no violence and death as feared. The Don decides to sue for peace.
And then comes one of the high-points of the book, the conference of all the Mafia Chiefs in the US that Don Corleone hosts. The description of each Don, the matter of fact portrayal of a very unusual and illegal event and the iconic speech made by Don Vito escalates the standard of the book by more than a few notches.
The death of Sonny, a lucky chance to escape from being hanged for double murders and the vengeance for his young wife’s murder gets Michael back from Sicily right into the thick of the New York Mafia world. The way the Family fight its way out of this dangerous and highly criminalized world to the respectability and power of Las Vegas and Hollywood forms the last part of the book.
The book end with the death of the great Don Vito Corleone and the final sweeping coup de grace of Michael that establishes him as the newly crowned Godfather, in the guise of a respectable and rich Nevada businessman.
Several of the ideas expressed in the book are immoral, unethical and downright cruel. Michael proposing marriage to his old sweet-heart, innocent deeply loving Kay, not so much because he loves her but because he wishes to have an unsullied, All-American family with her is something, that to me, was as cruel as a murder in cold blood.
The language of the book is dynamite- impactful and sharp . The story packs a punch or what! The characters are colorful and multifaceted. Though the pace slackens off a little sometimes, the book keeps you gripped till the very end. No wonder The Godfather has over the years assumed proportions more of an epic than that of a normal good read. Let me just coin a new word for it and say it is absolutely unputdownable!
I’d give the book a 6 on 5!
Deepika Divekar, Guest blogger