Last updated on November 5th, 2023 at 12:49 pm
The Godfather book by American writer Mario Puzo is a crime novel published in 1969. The book portrays the rise of the greatest, most respected and most powerful Mafia Don in New York City, and the war between six powerful mafia families after WWII. I read the book after watching the film first and realised why the film happens to be a great piece.
Without the book, the knowledge of the film may remain incomplete. The book is a thorough description of guns, mafia activities, gambling, abortion and the bending of state elements to corruption, to the power of the underworld.
I came to know why The Godfather (1972) is a great movie only when I read the book on which it is based. One may not find the film as good as people say it would be. But reading the book would certainly make them say, “Don’t judge a book by its film.”
The Godfather book
The Godfather is based on the six most respected and dangerous Sicilian Mafia families in New York after and before World War II. Of all the six families– the family of Anthony Stracci, the family of Ottilio Cuneo, the family of Tattaglia, the family of Don Emilio Barzini, the Turk family led by Sollozzo and the Don Corleone family– the Don Corleone family was the most respected, powerful and feared family in New York.
But the war between the Don Corleone family and the other five families made the underworld of New York great chaos which was primarily based on supremacy and varied business ethics the two factions held. The war between them began as Sollozzo, the Turk, brought the proposition of doing drug business with the political and financial support of Don Corleone, who controlled the olive oil business and gambling.
Sollozzo asked for two million dollars and political protection from Don Corleone which he refused to be part of on the ethical ground. Don Corleone, who was revered for his ‘reasonableness’, faced the consequence of his refusal. He was shot in broad daylight one day by Sollozzo and Tattaglia family gunmen in a fruit shop outside his office, on his way home. Luckily, he survived the assassination attempt.
Suspicion mounted that had on their driver cum bodyguard Paulie Gatto was there the Don would not have been shot. But he was absent that day under the pretext of his illness, while his son Frederico Corleone was driving Don’s car. Later on, the Corleone family had him killed for suspected complicity with Sollozzo.
In retaliation to the Don’s attempted murder, Michael, Don’s youngest son, killed Sollozzo and the corrupted police captain, McCluskey, who was in Sollozzo’s payroll, at Patsy, an Italian restaurant, and fled to Corleone, an area of Sicily from where Don Corleone hailed and emigrated to America after his father was killed.
Skilfully Michael, elder brother Sonny and consigliere Tom planned killing while Michael agreed to meet them inside the restaurant for a business talk.
Born as Vito Andolini, Don Corleone had changed his name to Corleone to preserve the tie with his native village. Coming from Sicily at twelve he took a job in the Abandando grocery store on Ninth Avenue in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen before WWI. There he got married to an Italian woman, killed a local mafia leader, Fanucci, and met other petty criminals like Clemenza and Tessio. From that grocery store, he began his olive oil company, Genco Pura Olive after WWI when olive oil became scarce.
Later when, by WWII, he became the most powerful Don, became the Godfather to many, who came to him for any kind of assistance. He rescued a homeless street boy, and put him in law school and who became his consigliere, Thomas Hagen. He became Godfather to an upstart music aspirant Jonny Fontane to make him a Hollywood movie star and had him win Oscar using his political power. To many strugglers and pariahs, he became a godfather, who used them, helped them and gave them lavish life the moral society could not afford.
When the Don heard that his stepson Jonny Fontane was removed, because he was sleeping with the producer Jack Woltz’s girl, from the upcoming war movie, the Doc sent his commissary to New York to Wotz Studio to deal with the matter with Woltz. When Woltz refused to give Jonny any role, the Don used his power to threaten him by killing his Khartoum, the famed English racing horse of six hundred thousand dollars. Later, was offered his role in the war film.
When the Don’s old friend undertaker Amerigo Bonasera came to him on his daughter’s wedding day seeking justice for his daughter for being badly bitten by two American young men, he promised him of justice. Amerigo Bonasera, at last, came to the Don when the justice system of the state failed to offer him justice for his daughter. The court let the boys scot-free which hurt Amerigo badly. And the Don awarded him with justice by maiming the boys, and in turn he expected Amerigo’s loyalty anytime he expected.
When Michael Corleone, a war veteran, was trying to present his father’s business to his girlfriend, Kay Adams who had only a faint idea through media, in a plausible way, he said, “He refuses to live by rules set up by others, rules which condemn him to a defeated life. But his ultimate aim is to enter that society with a certain power since society doesn’t really protect its members who do not have their own individual power. In the meantime, he operates on a code of ethics he considers far superior to the legal structures of society.”
In the meantime, while Michael was in Sicily, and the Five Families War of 1946 began and because of the state’s strict under to close down the gambling houses, prostitution, until the police had found the murderer of Captain McCluskey, all unlawful business activities came to a standstill. the Corleone family did not want to hand over the murderer, but rather settled the matter of killing a police captain and Sollozzo by arranging a scapegoat.
It was a young newly graduated lawyer Felix Bocchicchio from the Bocchicchio family who killed one of his friends and two businessmen after being released from jail. A lawyer friend talked flix into doing him a favour that involved bankruptcy fraud. When his fraudulence was discovered his layer friend refused to help him and the other two businessmen who were caught involved and confessed to the court that Felix is their ring leader who forced them into fraud.
When he got out after serving three years, he bought a pistol and killed three of them and waited for police to arrest him. The court awarded his death in the electric chair. Bocchicchio family came to Don Corleone he refused to help which was impossible for him. But proposed to the clan chief what was possible for the Don.
The Don Corleone guaranteed to the head of the Bocchicchio clan that the wife and children of Felix Bocchicchio would be rewarded with a handsome pension. The money for this would be handed over to the Bocchicchio clan immediately. In turn, Felix must confess to the murder of Sollozzo and police Captain McCluskey. Which Flix did to release from his murder charge.
Moreover, while hiding in Sicily, Michael fell in love with a Sicilian girl, Apollonia. Her father owned a café where Michael went for a refreshment. As he got to know that the girl, he was struck by a thunderbolt is the café owner’s daughter, he took the proposal to him to marry her. Marry, he did, according to Italian tradition.
However, Michael Apollonia was killed in an assassination attempt meant to kill him, in Sicily. One of his guards, Fabrizzio, carried the attempt. In the meantime, Michael learnt that his elder brother Sonny was assassinated one night by Barzini men on his way to his newly married sister’s place to rescue her from her oppressive husband Carlo, who got paid for the act, an attempt to bring Sonny in the open so they can kill him.
Connie was the Don’s only daughter among three brothers whose husband worked for Barzini. Her brothers so loved her that they could stand Carlo’s torture on her. Later when Michael came back from his exile and took charge of the Corleone family, he cleared everyone is not theirs.
In the conference of the Dons, Corleone agreed to allow the drug business to be run by other Dons and refused to avenge his dead son Sonny in order to maintain peace between the warring godfathers all over America. Michael was brought back to New York after two years. He became the head of the Corleone family as Don Corleone semiretired from the organization after an agreement with five families.
But Michael was determined to avenge Sonny’s death and take control of New York City by being the most powerful mafia family, which he did after the Don’s death.
Breaking the agreement, he first killed Fabrizzio, who fled to America from Sicily after the assassination attempt. Then he went after Barzini and Philip Tattaglia, his brother-in-law Carlo, and his caporegime, Tessio, who was set up to kill Michael. After that, the Corleone family shifted to Las Vegas from Long Beach.
Is the social system doing any good?
There many things that the movie does to tell us about. Suppose, we do not know how the great Don Corleone became the Godfather, we don’t know his greatness, generosity, ferocity and being Godfather became his only ‘destiny’.
On the other hand, there are many things that can compel one to ponder upon the book, such as, how one can easily feel safer in an empire of a godfather, than in a society where justice is meted out by the protectors of it. The Don would often advise, ‘one can have but only one destiny in life’, and we have to find out what that is. The Godfather, after all tell us why godfather are the gods for the godless, deprived and honest people who are made victims of social and political injustice.
When the state’s justice system fails to protect and provide the weaks the justice, when society never pays heed to the insignificant people, they came to him seeking justice. And his gunmen duly take care of matters. He got criminals bailed from death row by manipulating and influencing the judiciary system, and getting them a high position in his organisation. He became the benefactor to many and a saviour in the society he created. A society where there is no rule of law but orders of power and mutual empowerment.
The Godfather portrays a grim reality that a man, a man with a family inevitably faces in meeting the end demands of his wife, children and well-wishers. A humble hardworking man, Vito, rose to be the Don Corleone amid his desperation to arrange a square meal in his children’s mouths, and during the time of miscarriage of justice. He saw how mafias, and ruffians were being feared, and respected and were playing with so-called state functionaries.
The film does not tell how an honest police captain, McCluskey, became a protector of mafias, instead of a guardian to the state’s people. Being underpaid by the state he decided to be under Sollozzo’s payroll and became the protector the crime and criminals which helped him send his children to a better college, his wife to have better clothes and convey his assistance to his sister and relatives who were under his obligations.
Yet, how the Don rose, McCluskey got involved in illicit activities and why Felix got himself involved in fraudulent activities may be judged by moral and social standards, and we may dictate them as a matter of choice. But when a man cannot avert his responsibilities of caring other who are deepened on him, and when he thinks his children deserve a little more privilege, he is ready to do anything possible to that end. However, certainly is not to justify the crimes. Society usually remains dead to the needs of its community but suddenly becomes conscious of the crimes that help mitigate the needs of the people.
Whatever is bad, illegal, and unaccepted found a way to be benevolent in the Don’s word, which is somehow also benevolent to great many people. That, “family is more loyal and more to be trusted than society”, somehow rings true to me.
Mario Puzo, or the greatness of the great Godfather Don Corleone in that matter, reminds us that once the state fails to protect the powerless; provide justice; and cronyism, corruption and selective application of law infiltrate the system, the powerless aspire to become powerful take role of the state administration. The Dons or the underworld promise to give justice with guns and general chaos. Godfathers rise with greatness!
The Godfather by Mario Puzo is one of the best novels to elaborate, ‘behind every fortune there is a crime’. Mario offers exact reasons why we should endear him for his work, while The Godfather tells us it has to offer society a lesson that way it operates within the framework of corrupt regulators to control the will the mass.
And every favour one receives from any Don must be repaid by even greater favour by the recipient. No favour is lavishly given unless the benefactor sees there is a possibility of getting it returned in the near future when in demand.