The Family Corleone
The Family Corleone is a novel based on the screenplay Mario Puzo left upon his death. The Godfather II saw Vito Corleone’s early years in New York during the Twenties; The Godfather covered his later years, 1945-1955. This prequel covers the years in between, 1933-1935, and focuses heavily on Vito’s son Santino (Sonny), still in his teens, and his decision to enter his family’s life of organized crime against his father’s wishes. Prohibition, the source of a great deal of income to crime families in the US, ends during this period, causing a shakeup in the power structure as the various gangs jostle for the remaining resources. Fiorello LaGuardia is elected New York’s first Italian-American mayor during the same span of time. Can Sicilians like the Corleones get along with a Neapolitan like LaGuardia? And can the younger generation, more inclined to a melting-pot model, include Irishmen in their heists and Irish women in their beds? Or are Erin’s sons to be consigned merely to corruptible law enforcement in their use to gangland?
As we have come to expect from this genre, the Corleones are bizarrely brutal one moment, touchingly loving family men the next. Not for the faint of heart, but from a historical novel perspective, this is a beautifully written book. Historical details pitch perfect make every page visceral – as when Sonny buys a pack of cigarettes from a girl in a club, tossing a quarter on her tray and telling her to “Keep the change” – and the backing of a film script gives us a car-chase pace. No detail does not have its place. The number of characters with names, first, last and nick, is sometimes overwhelming, but most of them are well drawn, so this rarely becomes a problem. A chart of family relationships on the fly leaf tries to help, but it too is overwhelmed, and it is hard to imagine fitting this all onto the silver screen.