Vito Andolini Corleone a first generation Italian immigrant in America becomes a New York Don in his quest to fight poverty and powerlessness typical to early twentieth century Italian immigrants. With the passage of time Vito develops deep and widespread connections in the American political nexus. Generous bribery allows him to run illegal gambling establishments and extortion and protection run ups behind the façade of an Olive Oil Corporation. In 1935 Don Corleone has reached the pinnacle of success and is veritably the most powerful mafia don in New York. However, things take a sorry turn when he decides to forgo support to other New York mafia families in drug trade. It makes him and his family targets of a sinister murder plot which proves to be devastatingly fatal. As the Corlene family destabilizes crushing attacks, Don Corleone’s youngest son Michael, in a desperate attempt to save his family has to step into his father’s position. Mario Puzo then unfolds a story of gory murders and cold, merciless and unforgiving revenge. Micheal’s transformation from a straight-laced scholar and war hero to a diabolical villain is enrapturing and Puzo’s take on the then Hollywood scene truly disenchanting.
Although Mario Puzo never admitted any contact with the mafia, his depictions of the world are strikingly complete and realistic. Puzo always refrained from mentioning any real influence and termed his work as purely fictional but evidence eminently suggests the contrary. The novel’s setting is based in early and middle twentieth century America and Sicily. Puzo’s story bears a stark resemblance to the American Mafia scene of the 1930s that actually saw the organized crime racket of five Italian American Families operating from New York with very similar structural arrangements of rank and file. Additionally, Johnny Fontane’s character in the novel is also widely-speculated to have been inspired from real-life pop culture icon and then popular star Frank Sinatra.
Puzo writes in the third person. The narrative paces back and forth in time covering a period of almost 40 years from the time Vito Corleone first sets foot in America in 1907 to the time when Michael becomes heir to the family ‘business’ in 1939. His narrative derives strength and structure from observation, imagery and exposition. The narrative is nothing less than gripping and the writer maintains an amazingly uniform tone throughout his work. Puzo gave a lot of attention to the communication between various characters and the hidden meaning and implications each tangible and intangible transaction. Additionally he tried to make his descriptions as crisp and short as possible. Undoubtedly, his work derives a lot of strength from its plot and characters.
The story is beautifully intricate and the characters definitive. The story is full of brilliant elements of surprise or more aptly put- shock. With a certain cold patience Puzo shows to his audience the ironic existence of rules, organization and codes of conduct in the world of The Lawless. Danger, mistrust and betrayal darken the underlying tone. Vito Corlene’s image is strong and awe-inspiring. As a novel it is a compelling tale of Michael’s personal transformation. The story of a man whose fate links him inextricably to a world of lies and crime – a world he never desired to be part of.
Book Reviewed by Nagendra Singh
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