Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is my all-time favourite book. This masterpiece has taught me a lot about writing, and of course about the life of old-school Italian-American “businessmen” in New York. What makes it even more astonishing is that Puzo himself didn’t have any experience of the Mafia life he so remarkably describes, and yet he’s often praised for an incredibly accurate account on Cosa Nostra’s operation in both New York and Sicily.
I know many other authors have tried to write sequels to The Godfather, but I’ve never read them. I didn’t want them to ruin The Godfather for me. Besides, the sequels, as much as I’ve read about them, tend to contradict the storyline that was set in The Godfather films (which Mario Puzo himself helped write). And I prefer if a story has one storyline.
But when I a few weeks ago accidentally discovered The Family Corleone, I decided to give it a try. One of the reasons for my interest was that it wasn’t a sequel, but a prequel, covering the events leading up to The Godfather—or actually, covering the events that happened between Vito Corleone’s youth and his later days. But most importantly, Ed Falco based the book on a screenplay written by Mario Puzo himself.
The Family Corleone revolves around the 17-year-old Sonny Corleone who has just started discovering the criminal underground, stealing liquor from Joe Mariposa, one of the Mafia bosses in New York during the Prohibition. He and his Irish mates sell the booze they nick to Luca Brasi, who is at the time operating independently and hasn’t yet become Vito Corleone’s most feared soldier. But Sonny is bound to get caught by his father, and after a good bollocking he joins the Corleone family business, starting to learn the ropes of what it takes to be a Don—the destiny he thinks awaits him.
The Family Corleone explains the background of some of the characters we know from The Godfather book and the films. We’ll learn where Luca Brasi and Frankie Five Angels come from, and it tells us the story of how the Corleone family became the most powerful Mafia family in the New World. On the side, the book sheds light into the Irish underworld. Having been pushed aside by the Italians who have expanded their business across New York, they yearn for regaining their power and pushing the Italians to the sea, so to speak. Concentrating a lot on the ancient feud between the Italians and the Irish, the book also tells the story of an unlikely friendship between Sonny the Italian and an Irishman called Cork (or, Bobby Corcoran), who is desperately trying to remain Sonny’s friend even when things go especially sour.
What amazes me is that the book is so masterfully written as if Mario Puzo himself had risen from the dead. And yes, while the book is indeed based on a screenplay written by Puzo, a screenplay never shows a story without it being on the film. The Family Corleone does exactly that—it paints a picture in your head and shows you the story, rather than telling it. It’s a book you simply can’t put down—which explains why my smoking breaks at work while reading it were sometimes a wee bit longer than usual. And as this was the first book I read on Kindle, it was easy to take it with me and read just a few paragraphs here and there.
10/10. It doesn’t get better than that.
(The only downside is, if they decided to make a movie based on The Family Corleone, which I hope they do, I can’t think of any actors today who could play a single role there. And would it even be the same without the actors we know from The Godfather?)