The Godfather lives on and on…
To all The Godfather fans out there, and I know there are still legions:
Have you ever wondered how Sonny Corleone ended up in the family's criminal business? Or perhaps why and how Luca Brasi became the diavolo he is? Or maybe, where exactly did Tom Hagen come from?
There's good news for you. These and more questions about the characters in Mario Puzo's The Godfather, one of the most enduring pop culture classics of our time are answered in yet another follow-up book, this time the prequel to everything that we have already read and seen.
The book is called The Family Corleone and is billed as “The Prequel to The Godfather.” It is written by Ed Falco, based on a screenplay written by Puzo himself. It may not be as phenomenally successful as Puzo's first book, but this one also spent time on the New York Times' Bestseller List, proof of the enduring and all-time appeal of the Corleone saga.
After three books and three movies, the world simply has not gotten enough of the Corleones, which represents the first time America's crime families were written up in very human terms. So successful and so effective, in fact, was the portrayal of the mob in this saga that it did not just inspire an entire generation of books on Mafia families, but also talk that it was an initiative, a PR stroke, by the Mafiosi themselves so they will get better understood.
Whatever the truth is, The Godfather is now up there on the world's archives as one compelling story that helps tell the story of our times. It is a testament to its force and appeal that long after Puzo had died, the characters that he created continue to live on, and not just in archival records. As the story is updated every so often, and time gaps in Puzo's work are filled, literature and I am sure, film, will continue to be produced on them. This, despite the quarrel between Puzo's Estate and Paramount Pictures over the proprietary rights to the story. Paramount was the producer of The Godfather films.
In 2004, the Puzo Estate authorized the publication of The Godfather Returns, by Mark Winegardner. The sequel covered years 1955 to 1962, continuing the Corleone story that Puzo started, which originally covered 1945 to 1955.
Then, two year later, Winegardner continued the saga with another book, The Godfather's Revenge, which tackled the years 1963 and 1964.
These two books, which also had time on the NYT Bestsellers List, picked up where Puzo left his characters at the end of the books. In a sense, these books were easier to write in that they simply supplied the continuation of the story.
The latest book, however, the one by Falco, starts afresh, and in fact launches the saga. Of course he is aided by the screenplay Puzo left behind in terms of character development, but screenwriting, as we all know, is an entirely different animal from writing the novel.
And personally, I find Falco's work more compelling, maybe because it takes us farther back in time. Winegardner's works had suffered from comparisons to the original, coming as they did closer to it, in terms of its era and its time of publication.
Falco's book is set in 1933 New York, during the Great Depression when crime families also had plenty of opportunities to make money criminally, what with Probihition and all. Against this backdrop, the story tells how Vito Corleone consolidated his wealth and power, eventually rising to become at one point America's most powerful don.
Santino Corleone is 17 and is courting Sandra who is revealed to be the granddaughter of the widow Columbo, remember the old woman who was thrown out of her apartment and who sought Vito's help in the original story? Tom Hagen is in college and is unwittingly in the bad graces of Luca. One of Vito's henchmen is Ritchie Gatto, father of Paulie who would turn him in to the Sollozo forces in the original.
Michael, Fredo and Connie are still school , with Michael already showing a preciousness and diligence that would serve him well as the future don.
By itself an engaging and interesting story, The Family Corleone comes with added bonus to the incorrigible Godfather fans: it ties the loose threads left hanging by Puzo, weaving a seamless saga we can continue to enjoy today and long into the future.*
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