It has now been a decade since I first picked up Godfather the book and immersed myself into the world of New York City Mafia in the 1900s. The fact that a decade had passed since that momentous moment just came to my attention right now. A whole decade has passed but still the major occurrences in Godfather is still fresh in my head. How could one forget the bedside horse head, Michael accepting his role in the family, Al Neri proving his mettle and Vito Corleone’s daunting presence. So it was with high anticipation that I picked up Godfather for a re-read, my first book at that.
Those of you who are in my Goodreads circle could very well find that Godfather is one of my all-time favorite books. Consequently there was a slightly pessimistic thought in my head that what I remembered about Godfather might not be as huge as I imagined, probably magnified since it was being looked at through nostalgic lenses. But never was I disappointed in the slightest, except when I had to put down the book each day knowing very well that a monumental sequence was waiting for me just ahead. Even though I knew what was going to happen and there was no sense of suspense, the slow build up towards those incidents was exhilarating to say the least. And when the scene actually comes into play, the anticipation bursts into a surge of dopamine leaving a sense of satisfaction that envelopes you.
But despite being one of my favourite reads, I was surprised by how much part of the book my memory had glossed over and how much the incidents varied with what I had in mind. For instance, even though I had a faint recollection of the character called Johnny Fontane, the entire subplot of Johnny Fontane and his struggles as a/an actor/singer/producer never jolted any memory cells to activation. The same happened with Michael’s arc in Sicily. Even though I am still at odds about the importance of those arcs to the main story-line, it was nevertheless plot points that rounded out the characters.
Reading through the Godfather, one could easily differentiate between various parts of the story even when there is no clear distinction. It is best explained in terms of the air surrounding the characters. Mario Puzo makes sure that the reader feels as if present in the room with the characters feeling the same energy as everyone else. Every glance, every nod, every single annotations are expertly conveyed on to the reader.
Setting aside the prologue where Amerigo Bonasera is wronged by the Justice system he believed in, from the moment the scene focuses around Corleones there is a warmth. A general delightful environment kicked off by Connie’s wedding. Even though there are lot of “family business” being carried out, as the reader is introduced to the world of Corleones mostly through the perspective of Tom Hagen, there is sense of smoothness as that of a well oiled machinery. Don Vito Corleone is essentially rendered as a Man who can do no wrong and to whom nothing can wrong.
That is until the coming of Sollozzo, the archetypal villian, making it easier for the reader to root for the Corleones as the anti-hero. By now Mario Puzo has established Vito Corleone as the better evil for those on the fence. But by this time chaos rumbles and the warmth climbs up to a searing heat following the fateful shooting of the Don. The confusion, unrest and indecision that follows increases the value of Vito in the mind of the readers. It is interesting to note that there are very few actual exhibitions of Vito’s brilliance and intelligence, but the characters especially Tom Hagen make sure that the reader knows that the Godfather is not a force to be reckoned with.
Coming to think about it, The Godfather is almost Lion King-ish. We don’t really see that many showcases of Mufasa’s wisdom but we just know it is there. Then there is the eventual break of trust, the exile of the prodigal son, and return of the prodigy serving the cold dish of vengeance.
Going back to the temperature readings, a chill sets down as soon as Michael comes back from exile. The warmth of Vito’s friendships have made way to Michael’s cold stares and dominant aura. The difference between wartime and peacetime is laid out plain. Even though it was my second time through this, I could feel the palpable suspense and tension in the air. Everyone knew that something was brewing, everyone knew that sooner or later the tension had to burst.
And golly it did. Magnificently Poetic! The ending of Godfather is one of the most goosebumps initiating segments I have read. Mere hours of symphonic precision, the test of Michael Corleone and the rise of the New Don. With this Mario Puzo rips off the mask of sympathetic anti-hero to reveal the coldness of a calculating villain.
The character arc of Johnny Fontane was a curious one. For me the parallel arc with life and struggles of Johnny in Hollywood and later in Vegas served mainly two purposes. One was to show the width of Godfather’s influence and how vast the network of Corleone family was. The second seemed to be as a literary device to cut away from the main plot line, so that the intensity is reset. If the main story line was a TV show, this was the commercials. If the rise and fall and eventual resurrection of Corleones was the main mission, the fall and rise of Johnny was the side quest.
Through my first and second reading of Godfather, I associated myself with Tom Hagen instead of the protagonists. All these years it was quiet puzzling as to why I would harmonize with a character that plays second-fiddle to main characters. But with this re-reading I realized that this was almost intentional. This pattern can be seen in another fictional work – the various cases of the Victorian sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. In both these books the main character is portrayed as almost superhuman, perfect renditions of man at his best – supreme intellect and meticulous observation for Holmes and unwavering statesmanship and peerless cold calculations for Corleone. Unless you have a sense of inflated egotism it is seldom that anyone would associate themselves with these pinnacles of human minds.
It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell.