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Review

‘The Godfather’ novel just as absorbing as its film adaptation

March 23, 2016

While many of us have seen the 1972 film “The Godfather” fewer of us have read the novel by the same name of which it was based. Written in 1969 by the Italian American author Mario Puzo, “The Godfather” is every bit as thrilling as the film.

Puzo, born in 1920 in Hell’s Kitchen New York to a poor Italian family, saw firsthand much of the mafia adventures we have come to love. After serving as a public relations officer in Germany for the United States military during World War II, he came back to the United States and later became an author. Puzo penned a great many other mafia novels after the success of “The Godfather,” however none of them garnered nearly as much success and it is clear that “The Godfather” was his magnum opus.

Puzo’s skill as an author does not come so much from his abilities as a wordsmith but rather his experiences and his descriptions of post-war New York crime. He manages to paint the underworld in a gritty, real and accessible manner. He tells the fictional story of the Corleone family, and their rise to power in the United States. The novel is centered on the character Vito Corleone and how he came over from a poor Sicilian family and managed to become one of the most powerful men in American crime. While the Corleone story is fiction, the characters and the families are based off of real life mobsters such as Frank Costello, Carlo Gambino, and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. Another part that is drawn from history is the presence of the five families, the famous five groups of American mobsters cooperating and working together.

This novel is often heralded as a great example of a film being made out of a novel. While oftentimes people find that films leave out much of the novel or that they have changed too much, director Francis Ford Coppola did an excellent job with the adaptation. A common complaint made is that much is left out, as it is far easier to pack more information into a book than a movie. If books like “The Lord of the Rings” were made into films while omitting nothing, the series would span nearly two days of film. “The Godfather” was thankfully adapted into two movies, both of considerable length. While there is a third Godfather film, it does not draw from the original novel as the source material, and is seen as the weakest of the films.

For many, the film adaptations of “The Godfather” are superior to the novel. However, in my opinion at least, that is comparing apples to oranges. Rather than preferring the book or the film, I find that that the two media complement each other and tell the same story but in different and unique ways. I would recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in crime novels, “The Godfather” films or those who wish to learn how to become Capo di tutt’i capi (the boss of all bosses – the godfather) yourself. The book is available at the time of writing to UW-River Falls students at the Chalmer Davee library.