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The Godfather
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108 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2002
The Godfather is, in many ways, not just a novel - it is an experience, after which your life will never be the same again. I have not the least of doubts in calling it 'the best, most influential and deep-cutting that I have ever read.' In its sheer departure from being just a general, run-of-the-mill tale about idolizing a particular individual, the novel presents to us with a ringside view of the workings of the Mafia, and more importantly, the lives of the people who are involved in it, directly or indirectly.
The novel starts off with a quote from Balzac - "Behind every great fortune, there is a crime." That, in effect, sets the tone for the entire novel. Mario Puzo, the author, ruthlessly captures the travails of a New York Don, Vito Corleone, who is, to quote the words of his son, "not a crazy gunning mobster", and his family.
Puzo presents to us an entire array of different characters - be it the short-tempered Sonny, or the dreary undertaker Bonasera, or the ever-faithful Luca, the cool-headed Tom, the 'Turk' Sollozzo, or the pleasant outsider Kay Adams, each character enters our world, refusing to leave. We are impressed by most of these essentially evil people because the story is told in an entirely closed world (of crime) and so we tend to love characters whom we would, in the normal course, detest.
The novel is, basically, about just two persons, Don Vito Corleone and his son, Michael, who after refusing to accept his father's ways, finally comes to terms with the reality and takes up the 'family business'.
Puzo shows us why he is the great author he really is! The character of the Don pervades our thoughts more than most (or almost all) other fictional characters do. Though the nature of his business is violent, the Don is portrayed as a genial, kind and reasonable man. To say the least, the Don is someone whom `every son will look for in his father, every woman will look for in her husband, and any mortal will look for in an inspirational leader.' In fact, the Godfather is what every man aspires to be - a strong, powerful and wise yet cunning genius and family man.
I have not read a better novel - chances are, you won't either! Do not miss the Godfather movies too.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2003
Not many works of fiction can claim to have significantly changed the face of American culture; Mario Puzo's classic novel The Godfather is surely one of those. Look at the evidence: This book (and the wonderful cinematic counterpart) reintroduced the gangster as an American icon. It helped to spawn entire new genres in fiction and films. (Some critics suggest there should be an entirely new designation for this genre and have dubbed it "The Eastern".) Of course, it introduced that classic catchphrase "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." Finally, it introduced one of the great heroic criminals into literature in the person of Don Vito Corleone (a character reportedly based on Puzo's own mother). Yes, it is true that the movie and not the novel must take much of this credit, but this work is hardly the two-star pulp trash that a few misguided critics have made it to be. It's solid all the way through, particularly the fabulous portrayals of the ruthless gentleman Don Vito and his family, epecially the sons: hotheaded Sonny (whose penchant for needless violence proves fatal), cowardly Freddie (who is spooked by the Don's near-assasination and runs away to Las Vegas), and, most memorably, cool, reserved Michael (who, in the end, proves a tactical genius truly worthy to be called his father's son.) Also, don't forget the fabulous cast of supporting characters: singers Johnny Fontaine and Nino Valenti (read: Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin), and the many minor players such as Luca Brasi and Amerigo Bonserai, who literally owe their very existence to the Don's generosity. And the women!!! Such marvels of strength, tenacity and character presented in blindly obidient Connie, questioning Kay, and the Don's own wife, who knows much more than she reveals. Her tutoring of Kay into the Sicilian way of life ends the book on a high note. Puzo makes these character studies work because he gives each person his own little spotlight; by chapter's end, you know why each one has chosen to become a family member or confidant. The chapters showing the Don's rise to power, subsequent fall, and rebirth are the highpoints of the book, as the newer, more ruthless families seek to destroy the Corleone's sacred honor by forcing them into trafficking drugs. Yes, in the end, it is Michael who prevails, but the action is so good that the climax is not spoiled by knowing the outcome in advance. The reader will want to visit this novel time and again for it's unique perspectives on honor, justice, and The American Dream.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
I first read Mario Puzo's THE GODFATHER three decades ago, and the impact it had on me was overwhelming. Here was a rare novel that hooked the reader from the very first page, a novel to be savored and absorbed by the author's grim yet masterful prose.
Through the pages of this book the reader is introduced to the shadowy world of organized crime--more importantly, to the fiercely interdependent workings of the mafia. Deeply embedded in its Italian heritage, it was a culture of unspeakable violence, but it also fostered family, honor, community, loyalty, friendship. Vengeance. If you are downtrodden, or unfairly victimized, all you need do is approach one of the "families" and request a "favor." Proclaim your devotion and friendship, the favor will be granted. And then--even though it may never happen--you must be willing to return the favor.
Or suffer the consequences.
Puzo's novel brings to life the Corleone family, headed by its aging patriarch, Don Vito Corleone. In post-World War II New York, Corleone faces a changing world, but he is still plagued by the relentless "turf wars" with the other major families. Intense pressure is brought to introduce narcotics to the list of "services" provided by his family--pressure that Corleone emphatically resists, to the bleak detriment of first himself, and to those he loves. The subsequent development of the story--of the Corleone's strategy, of the emergence of one of the Godfather's sons to perpetuate the family's power and considerable clout--is spellbinding.
Few novels of the last thirty years have had any lasting effects on our cultural lexicon. THE GODFATHER is one of them. Highly recommended.
--D. Mikels
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2000
Before I even realized that there had been a book, I was an avid fan of The Godfather and loved the characters of Sonny, Michael, Vito, Lucca Brazzi, Peter Clemenza, and the other unforgettable faces that made the film great. Then, one day I came upon a first edition of the novel at an antique shop and bought it. I read it quickly (the book travels at a breakneck speed) and with much relish, and when I was done I was satisfied. The movie was good, but the novel was BETTER. Puzo's Corleone family is a well-illustrated, clearly defined group, each member with his own strengths and weaknesses. The storytelling is gripping, the dialogue brilliant, the characters charming. Puzo, in addition to the main bent of the story, delves into the shady side of old-school Hollywood and makes an interesting read of it. For any lover of the Godfather saga, this book is a must read. Check it out, and enjoy!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 12, 2012
A great story with a lot more depth about the politics and machinations within the mafia than the movie (one of my favorite movies of all time, by the way). You come out the back end of the book with an appreciation for the sheer cunning and manipulative skill required to thrive in the world of the Mafia. Like some other books (Shogun comes to mind) you find yourself immersed in a world of casual brutality that, on its own terms, within its own context, sorta makes sense and is understandable -- repulsive, abhorrent, and yet strangely compelling for a 3-day reading fest.

At the risk of committing sacrilege for Godfather fans, I would contend that the writing is very mediocre. Puzo uses the much-maligned "headhopping" technique, in which the reader has access to the inner thoughts of multiple people within a single scene (sometimes within a single paragraph). This technique is rarely used, because it keeps the reader emotionally distant from the characters, which indeed is a problem with this book. Most of the time, you feel like you're peering in on the world of the Corleones as a spectator, rather than viscerally feeling it, and I think the headhopping is the reason for it. More generally, there was a lot of content that had little to do with the main plot, and it got kind of tedious and frustrating: whole chapters of minor characters in Las Vegas who were loosely if at all connected to the story, a girl getting a vaginoplasty for seemingly forever, pages and pages of background info on characters who were gone from the story right after they'd been described in detail. But my biggest problem with the writing is that there is never a convincing explanation for why Mike Corleone suddenly decided to transform himself from somewhat-pacifistic and sensitive "civilian" to stone-cold killer and gangland boss, almost overnight. It's the seminal moment and turning point of the book, and I was left thinking "I just don't buy it." In the hands of a more skilled novelist, it could've been a very powerful character arc, but in Godfather it just seems implausible.

All that said, no one can deny the power of the story and the compellingly complex character Vito Corleone. If anything, The Godfather is testament to how much a great story can override the limited prose skills of an author.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2013
Just finished a complete word for word re-read of "The Godfather," and once again left the book in awe. --- I do believe that it is a vastly underrated novel, in terms of pure literary accomplishment, and that is unfortunate. Few books I've read contain such a compelling narrative, such a rich and lavish vocabulary and so much skilled presentation of character and circumstance. ----- The novel works as literature on all levels. --- What made it a blockbuster? I am still intrigued by that question. Undoubtedly, it was the combination of a true family saga with the genuine backstory of organized crime. --- Stories of families -- of how they come to define themselves, and how they manage to survive -- are always potentially powerful. And this is a story of an American immigrant family with a remarkable twist. As for being the backstory of a great criminal organization, the book appeared at a time when America was more hungry for the "backstory" of its villains and heroes than ever before. Today we take all those backstories for granted. We're used to the comic book monster who weeps or the vampire who pours out his soul or the gangster who makes us cry when he's shot. But when this book first appeared, the love of the backstory of the cliched villain was just developing, and the hyper-intimacy of the Godfather's portrait of thugs and murderers was stunning. It was genius of Puzo to take the Italian Mafioso gangster, so often the heavy in novels and and TV and films, and tell the tale from his point of view, and the points of view of those who surrounded him and admired him, or even loved him -- his family, criminal associates and intimate friends. With his profound insider knowledge of the Italian Mafia, Puzo revealed biographies, vignettes, customs, sayings, and "insider thinking" of undoubted authenticity to bring his novel fully alive. --- Speaking of the Don as a great man, or a genius, without the slightest compunction to hedge his bets morally, Puzo outrages and yet fascinates. And his compassion for his created characters is endless, as he probes for the humanity in almost all members of his huge cast, no matter how unappetizing the person might seem when first introduced. --- As for the structure of the novel it is very simply brilliant. Puzo keeps talking, keeps revealing, keeps explaining, keeps filling us in on this world of his as if it were in fact reality and he was merely answering our questions as he reminisces. ---- Indeed the absence of a tight structure sometimes seems to enable him to make this a page turner of near unfathomable power. ---- There are lessons to be learned in this book for any novelist, I think, no matter what that novelist's aims. ---- I can't recommend the book enough to all. Read it for pleasure, read it to learn about writing, read it to enjoy the profound story behind the dazzling Coppola films. Read it to gain perspective on a certain time and place in American cultural development. Doesn't much matter. It is such a great book that it will never disappoint. And don't fail to note the beauty of the writing, the often graceful and lovely phrasing, and (again), the powerful and flexible vocabulary used so effectively over and over again to bring to life characters, moments, visual scenes. A treasure. I suspect this book is taught in some literature classes now. It will surely be treasured as literature in years to come. It was never just a "pulp" novel. And no one should ever dismiss it as such. When I finished it yesterday, my latest used hardback copy was filled with notes, underlining, little flags. I was so sorry that I had come to the end. And all I wanted to do was start reading it all over again.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2000
The canonization of Francis Ford Coppola's two-part adaptation of this book in the film world has made us forget that, upon its release, The Godfather (the novel) was actually considered quite pulpy, and not of the high-art status that the films have achieved.
Personally, I couldn't care less -- Mario Puzo is an entertaining storyteller, and the characters he created were marvellous -- the seemingly docile Michael Corleone; hothead Santino; Tom Hagen, the brilliant lawyer with an identity crisis; Luca Brasi (underused in the film version), the subhuman brute; Albert Neri, a man driven by circumstances into the world of crime; and of course Vito Corleone himself, the elegant mastermind, a man with a dream, a romanticization of the crimelord as a patriarch of King Lear proportions.
The novel benefits from its chosen form. A scarcely acknowledged fact about the Godfather pictures is that much-needed exposition often had to get excised because there was so much back story to each character set up in the book that the film form couldn't handle adequately. You might notice in the Godfather films how Michael's return to America is completely unexplained; Luca Brasi's power and strength are never shown onscreen (he appears at the wedding, then dies in the bar at the hands of the Tattaglias); Paulie Gatto becomes a skimpish character; Genco Abbandando disappears; and Tom Hagen's conflicts about being consigliere are minimized. Even given two three-hour films, the amount of information in the one source novel couldn't be disclosed properly, resulting in huge gaps of information. Puzo's novel does it well, with exaggeratedly elevated language, character behaviour, and third-person narrative. It works beautifully, even given its trashier inclinations (eg. commentaries on Lucy Mancini's anatomy, and the large Johnny Fontaine/Nino Valenti subplot).
Small wonder that this larger-than-life novel spawned the most famous film series of all time, the first entry of which has been called the best film ever made (I have contentions with that). The Godfather can be read as pure entertainment and, if so desired, as literature.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2000
Mario Puzo has forever gained my respect for writing this gorgeous novel and the movie that was the result. Two of the most beautiful pieces of art in this world. One a life of words and the other an epic. Both breathtaking. I saw the movie before reading the book, but I belive they complimented each other. In the book you get a little background on some of the things that you didn't know about it the movie, hey that happens all the time, but here the movie is almost word for word of what this book is, almost a direct translation. I know I am reading a truly good novel when i feel an emptiness in my heart upon turning the last page. This is such a wonderful book. Please if you haven't read or have at least seen the movie. Get the hell outta here and do something about it, yeah you, you're doing yourself such a diservice by just sitting here. God supposedly (I am an atheist) made beauty, so get the freak out there and go experience it. Buy the book, it will make a worthy addition to your book shelf, trust me, just take a chance. Capisce?
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2007
As I travel in my car, I find myself listening to the Godfather on this Audio CD version constantly. I've probably listened to the entire collection nearly a dozen times.

The reading is very good as are the inflections and accents used. Some of the voice actors are used several times (they change their voices). But unless you've listened to this production more times than you'd admit, you won't notice.

This set is 12 CDs and, if you are a big fan of the Godfather series, you owe it to yourself to get this. You can literally see the actors in the Godfather series in your head while you listen.

I will say...after listening to the book read UNABRIDGED so many times, it has spoiled me on the original movie. Many things were left out or abridged in the movie...while, while a classic, I enjoy this audio CD more.

Worth every penny in my opinion...and I think that most audio cds are overpriced:!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I was surprised to hear that Mario Puzo wrote "The Godfather" after attempts at "literature" hadn't provided enough income. According to the source I read he wrote this book for the money. What can I say? I heard Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the same reason.

Whatever his inspiration, Puzo's tale is one I couldn't put down. I don't know how many today read the book before seeing Coppola's movie - one of the greatest films by almost any measurement. I read the book back in the 70s before seeing the film, and the movie vividly brought the characters in my head to life. The advantage in the book is that Coppola is able to allow you inside the heads of the characters and flesh out much of the back and side stories. Remember the undertaker who opens the movie, asking for the Godfather to render justice to the two punks who violated his daughter then were set free by the American court? In the book we find out what happens to those punks. The movie star Johnny Fontaine is fleshed out with a little Hollywood Babylon. We get to read the story of the young Vito Corleone and how he came to become "The Godfather" - a story that doesn't show up in until the second movie with DeNiro as young Vito and Bruno Kirby brilliant as the young Tessio. We find out how the Irish kid Tom Hagen becomes like an adopted son to the Godfather and how his intelligence enables him to go to law school and become the Godfather's next Consigliore. We get to find out about the fearful Luca Brasi and why he's pretty much the only man that makes Vito Corleone a little nervous.

Puzo creates a fictional world that is rich and profound and populated by larger than life characters. Only recommended for those who want to read the quintessential gangster novel.
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