Throughout the years I’ve heard a lot of people talk about The Godfather as one of the greatest movies ever made. I’d never gotten around to seeing it and, interestingly, never really heard much praise for the book. Nonetheless, the book remained on my radar and was something I wanted to try for some time… then recently, I finally decided to read it and while I can’t comment on the film, I believe the book to be among the best ever written.
The novel focuses on the Corleones, a mafia family. Vito Corleone is the head of the family and the titular ‘godfather’ and I found him to be a fascinating character. He’s a deeply religious man who always stands by his principles, someone who believes that it’s important to carve deep and meaningful relationships with all of the people in your life, particularly those who you do business with. He’s such a compelling, likeable man that you find yourself looking past the fact that he is a mafia don and has therefore almost certainly been responsible for the unlawful killing of many people.
But the book does paint a very sympathetic picture of mafia morality. The mafia is very much family oriented and if the people who join aren’t related by blood or marriage, they’ll be people who have formed strong personal bonds with someone who’s already in the mafia. Largely, its members are Italian American immigrants and the book points out that a lot of time they were unable to count on the police or the legal systems of America, due to systematic racism. The cards were stacked against them, so their only option was to create their own law system – one which didn’t view them as second class citizens. Of course, it’s a very romanticised view of organised crime, but it makes for a terrific story and is very thought-provoking.
Vito has four children: Mike, Connie, Sonny and Frederico – plus a man named Tom who he took in and serves him as a counsellor. Mike isn’t too keen on the family business, while Sonny is endlessly loyal to his father, to the extent that he’ll do anything – he has a violent streak which concerns them all. Frederico is less hot-headed, but equally as loyal, while Connie, as a woman, is not included in the family affairs. Unfortunately, most of the women play more limited roles – I guess it accurate to the time period and sub-culture that women wouldn’t have been involved with the mafia work, but if I had the fault the book on anything, it’s less then great portrayal of its female characters. Some of the male characters don’t have great attitudes towards women either… but again, I think it’s better to accurately present misogyny than pretend it never happened. I did also quite like Michael’s partner Kay and Vito’s wife Carmela.
The book is fairly long, focusing on several story threads which concern the different characters, but I read through it so quickly, because I loved every page. You really feel the bonds between these men and become quite invested in their world and their ethos. I was reading it for at least an hour every day and often that was because I intentionally stopped myself to do something else, rather than because I wanted to stop. The writing style is beautiful and it’s a really addictive book. I love the characters, I love the setting and I love the subject matter – I’ve never really read anything about the mafia before, but it was amazing to get some kind of insight into the way it operates. I also just really enjoy stories set in 1940s New York, so that was an extra bonus for me.
I think I’d recommend this book to anyone. It’s one of those masterpieces which appeals even to people who don’t typically read the genre it belongs to. It’s not often that I come across a book as incredible as this and I’m glad I finally decided to read it.