Kaion's Reviews > El padrino

El padrino by Mario Puzo
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Apr 13, 12

bookshelves: modern, school, seen
Read from February 04 to 25, 2012

Indeed, dear reader, I did not hate The Godfather. I h-aa-ted it.

How much did I hate it? Well I could start with a long dissemination of Mario Puzo's simplistic and repetitive prose. Puzo seems to think the reader needs a reminder of plot points that occured ten pages ago, and that unnecessarily drawing out an obvious reveal by splitting it up into three points of view counts as suspense.

Or I could give you a thorough cataloguing of how very poser-y The Godfather, with its bombastic ideas of masculinity and supposed gritty crime plotlines. And yet for moral convenience, the only people we see the Corleone Family harm are fellow mobsters they are at "war" with (and somehow the Corleones are never the instigators) or else, terrible human beings who are child molesters (I'm not kidding).

I have an essay on my hard drive about how the worship of this book and the character of Vito Corleone is misguided, as he better represents the utter failure of the American Dream and its corruption of true values... that is if one takes Puzo's vision seriously at all, which one really shouldn't, as it is just another weak attempt at the myth of the Single Man, as well as obviously only prodding history for hopefully salacious material, rather than having an insight into the times.

And I could talk on forever about the greatest myth of Puzo's "history" is his adherance to the Madonna-Whore view of his female characters, only slightly amended more specifically in Puzo's case to the Long-Suffering-Wife (Whose-Willingfully-Ignorant-Devotion-To-Her-Husband-Is-Only-Matched-By-Her-Spiritual-Devotion-To-Praying-For-His-Soul) and the Body, of which there are two subtypes, the Vagina (Woman-Who-Only-Exists-As-A-Sexual-Object) and the Victim (Woman-Who-Exists-As-A-Punching-Bag-Usually-For-Plot-Device-Purposes).

But really that would involve spending more time about thinking about this truly wretched book, and really just this*:

There's a whole character in this book-- a secondary character who gets several chapters devoted to PoV-- who is defined by her gaping vagina. Yes, literally. Her whole character is about her large vagina. We get a whole decades-spanning arc about her large vagina, because really, what else could possibly be more riveting about any woman? What other possible characteristics could any woman have that would be more important than that?

Do I really need to say more?

*It was this or an haiku about watching the pages burn, but I don't believe in book burning and I could never top Bradbury anyway, so this is what you get instead.
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Reading Progress

02/04/2012 page 120
27.0% "I find the movie coma-inducingly dull (except for some of the Diane Keaton parts), but maybe the book will be better? It's going by pretty easily, except for the rampant misogyny."
02/11/2012 page 318
71.0% "So every woman here is either a madonna (long-suffering, stupidly-devoted wife) or a whore (either a slut or a victim), but both kinds get to be glorified objects (admittedly, Connie gets to be both). Also, all the people the Corleone Family are depicted harming are explicitly rapists/would-be-rapists/corrupt/pedophiles/involved-with-drugs, so that totally makes the killing and maiming okay."

Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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message 1: by Kienie (new)

Kienie I knew you hated it, but I didn't know you h-aa-ted it.

Beata R If I might add to you already well-phrased account of Mario Puzo's misogyny:

The female characters can be divided into three categories
1) THE WOMEN WHO HAVE THINGS DONE TO THEM; aka the saintly wife who is a passive vessel for the consequences of her husband's criminality (the Don's wife); and the woman who is dumped for two years, replaced by a younger wife, and then has marriage imposed on her when aforementioned wife is killed (Kay)

2) THE WOMEN WHO HAVE THINGS DONE TO THEIR BODIES: Lucy Mancini (and her gaping vagina) and Appollonia.


In other words: Fuck you, Mario Puzo, you misogynist prick.

David It seems like the biggest issue you had with the novel was how women were treated. But there are a few things you need to remember:
First, the time period of this novel. Women didn't have the same rights as men back then, and it was commonplace for women to get smacked around by their husbands. (not saying I'm in favor of that, I vehemently oppose domestic violence), but that is just the way things are.

Second, this is how things were, and still are in a lot of Italian families. The wife is expected to bear children and do all household work and not pry into her husbands matters, Mafia or not.

If this was published in today's times then I could understand the indifference toward it, but that was a different time.

Also Vito Corleone's image being one of the anti American dream I would be very interested to read that essay. Look at what's happening today, people are losing their homes and pensions and no one is doing anything about it. All Vito wanted was to stay away from a society with rules that he knew would screw him over if he tried to make an honest living. As a whole, the novel is still extremely well written and has almost no flaws.

Beata R Yes, it absolutely is a depiction over another time, and another culture. That doesn't mean I didn't have to suppress my gag reflex while reading it.

And are these attitudes as antiquated as we think? If anything, I think they serve as a painful reminder of how much they persist in society today. Women are still expected to be wives and mothers foremost, and their bodies are really extensions of their value as human beings. Perhaps the reason I hated this book so much was because it was a painful reminder of what it still means to be a woman today.

Should this be a reflection of the value of the book itself? Well, when an entire chapter is devoted to reconstructing a woman's vagina, so that she can achieve her "purpose" of pleasing a man sexually, and when superfluous comments like "her wrinkled forehead made her look old and unattractive" are amply sprinkled in its discourse of women, I feel that the inner ugliness of this attitude affects the value of the book itself.

Brian The problems you have with this book exist endlessly in society. Puzo did not invent sexism, male sexual aggression/possession, or anything else you had a problem with in this book. It's like you're blaming Puzo for men who covet women, yet Puzo presents these little vignettes of chauvenism to us in a negative light. What is more surprising is that you don't sound like an unintelligent person, yet you seem to have missed all the subtext.

As for the vagina character whom you demean further by using that name, that was a huge metaphor to me. Maybe not to you, but to me it represented every woman, hell every person that thought they were only ever appealing to one person. The loss of that person is the loss of love, forever, physically and emotionally. Later on, when you realize that other people might come to love you, it's like you are born again and the world is open to you in a way you didn't believe it could be. Because this character was defined in the book by her deformity doesn't mean you as a reader don't need to look any further. Don't be so lazy.

As for all your other problems with the book, Puzo flat out presented them as...problems. When we were told about the thunderbolt, it was with subtext that told us what a stupid, childish thing it was, but that it happened often enough for people to accept it. Puzo was telling us that this yearning, this need for possession, was STUPID and barbaric, yet it was still a *need*. You take any man with limitless power who has a need for a woman, and eventually he will take her through force, whether it's Bill Clinton or Genghis Khan. Yet you hate Puzo because he puts this in his story?

Now, my next point is...have you ever even met an Italian? Furthermore, have you ever met a traditional Italian family? I'm going to guess no. If you had, you would've seen how it is a male dominated culture even today, even outside of Italy. Italian boys are doted on and girls are taught the value of housework and pleasing a man. You don't like it, great. Me neither. But that's the way it was back then, and to a lesser extent today. The fact that you blame Puzo for problems of society is just silly and ridiculous. He did not write strong female characters because back then, in that place, culture and time period, women were not seen as strong. That is simple fact. 

Vito Corleone should not be worshiped, nor should he be venerated or praised, nor did Puzo write him as even a good person. He took care of loved ones but he was absolutely a cold blooded murderer. The first story we hear about his deeds was that he held a gun to an innocent man's head, told him to do what Vito wanted, or he would die. And you have the nerve to think that fans of the book see Vito as a superhero? He isn't a saint and what you seem to have missed is that he knows it. Just because Vito Corleone takes care of his family doesn't make him a good man, and the strange quiet and sadness about him tell us, the reader, that he wishes things were a little different.

Lastly, you call this poser-y, which is kind of silly because there wasn't a whole lot of, if any, Mafia fiction before this book. That's like calling the Bible poser-y.

It's like you read the wikipedia article and decided that was enough. Did you even read the book? And if you hated it so much, why did you KEEP reading?

I don't understand you. You're clearly intelligent by your vocabulary and opinions, but you aren't really making much sense. Every single problem you have with the book is either reflective of the culture or intended by Puzo.

Brian Beata, you clearly have issues with gender roles in today's world, but like the original poster, you blame Puzo for all of them.

I don't know what it's like to be a woman in today's society, but please don't be one of those women who thinks we're still back in the dark ages. We still have more progress to make, but if a woman from these older times took a good hard look at your life, and how you complain of women's difficulties, she would laugh at you and spit in your face.

Woman have a tough time. Mario Puzo didn't decide on that. Get over it.

And since you're reacting so violently to gender differences, men are expected to be husbands and fathers, and our bodies are extensions of our value as human beings, really, moreso than women. If you don't think there's a tremendous amount of pressure on us to be as perfect and beautiful, you're victimizing yourself and your gender for attention. Period.

I won't say you're wrong about this but I will say I took it in an entirely different direction, about the woman with the vagina reconstruction. Do you know what I saw that as? I saw her as a broken puzzle piece on the island of misfit toys, that only Sonny fit into. After Sonny left, she felt useless, alone and without any prospect of love. And she had a not uncommon medical condition - yet Puzo is sexist for writing about it? The reconstruction surgery gave her a new life, not because of pleasure required for her fulfilling of her role as a sex toy for men, but for her OWN SELF WORTH. As a woman, how did you miss that? Seriously?

Angel Dean Absolutely agree, Brian. I teach this novel and encourage students to view it on these levels. I think Puzo often reinforces stereotypes only to undermine them later. Lucy's chapter demonstrates that she deserves to be loved and to enjoy her sexuality. Interesting to think that this book was placed in the 1930s, but published in the 1960s, at the height of the women's movement. I think Puzo knew exactly what he was doing. It's just a shame that he wasn't more careful with his writing however, as it falls just shy of being one of "the greats". I also discourage my students from the flat statement of "that's what things were like in those days" when we're talking about racism or sexism in a text. It doesn't make a character's behavior any less racist or sexist even if their setting was. It really depends on the author's agenda. Mark Twain lived in the racist south, and used the n-word, but he knew it was an ugly, bigoted word, and wrote accordingly, in order to reveal its true nature. I think there are points in this novel where Puzo does the same, and, unfortunately, I think he drops the ball sometimes too... probably rushing to get 'er to the publisher - he wrote it for the cash, after all.

Robert He haaaaaaaaaatttttedddddd it. Sorry. I still looooovvvvee it.

message 9: by Afif (new) - added it

Afif Luthfi you talked too much.. just enjoy the book.

message 10: by Cody (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cody King Brian seems to have hit the nail right on the head. We (the readers) understand that all of the characters in this novel are flawed. Some of them are misogynists, murders, and criminals. They are all positively self-righteous as well. This is the world that they live in, the culture they understand and embrace, and this is the world that Puzo has depicted for us. These are the lives that they live, and they are fascinating and tragic. To call Puzo a misogynist is erroneous. We don't consider Marin Scorcese a murderous psychopath because he directed Taxi Driver.

Justin Well said, Cody King. The male characters' misogyny, religious hypocrisy and racism are disgusting but they are who they are. The book is a masterpiece and is generally regarded as such

message 12: by Saumya (new)

Saumya Singh I to I'd reading this book twice. I absolutely hated it. I stopped trying to read this book at the very same place the second time as well.

message 13: by Saumya (new)

Saumya Singh I hated *

Lovett.nicholas You guys are trying way too hard to "literary-ize" a pulpy crime novel. This is an excellent beach read.

message 15: by Kienie (new)

Kienie No one is "trying too hard" to do anything. Do you say that because you think they are disingenuous? Or that there is nothing to be said? If a story is out there people will interpret it. And since stories don't happen in a vacuum, social issues will be amongst the topics discussed. Obviously not everyone sees the same issues, which leads to long discussions, arguments, and potential research and scholarship. Besides, isn't what a society considers criminal and what it doesn't a window into that society's values? Isn't that worth talking about and exploring? Especially because it's easily accessible to a large and varied audience.

Lovett.nicholas "The Godfather" is a "dude book" written in the sixties about the Mafia. Were you expecting progressive social commentary? C'monnnnn

message 17: by Kienie (new)

Kienie I think we're talking about two different things. I'm talking about how natural it is for people to take a story and to interpret it, regardless of the author's intent. How natural it is to look at what the author is portraying and to critique it based on issues those readers happen to care about. Your argument seems to be that the reader's interpretation doesn't matter because the author happened to write a particular type of book, in a particular time in history.
I don't believe in relying on authorial intent for interpretation. First of all because too many subconscious things, such as the social norms we live with, are at play in writing a book. Secondly, even if the author is aware and addressing some of them doesn't mean that the reader is bound to that interpretation.
So again, just because a book is a "dude book" written for a larger audience doesn't mean that it isn't reflecting something about the society which produces it. And doesn't mean that we should turn our brains off while reading it and not point out problematic themes. Especially because a lot of people are reading it and internalizing certain ideas and behaviors as normal.
And what does that even mean, a "dude book?" Does one need to be a "dude" to "get" it. By your own argument, there is nothing to get.

message 18: by Lovett.nicholas (last edited Feb 06, 2015 07:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lovett.nicholas Well, as far as book reviews are concerned, I believe in John Updike's first rule of literary criticism:

1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

Slamming Puzo for gender roles in "The Godfather" is an irrelevant criticism. There are only three female characters and they're poorly developed. The same is true for the work of many male authors. Pure and simple, "The Godfather" is a ripping crime read, and a study of what it means to be a man in Sicilian society.

I think it's obvious that some of the reviewers above have an agenda and an axe to grind.

David Yeah, I enjoyed this book, but I didn't expect anything better than what you might get in the pulps. The plotting of this book is really damn good and it made up for the flat characters. I'm reading Winslow's The Power of the Dog right now and, so far, Winslow far outdoes Puzo's scope, politics, and characterization. It's like The Godfather done RIGHT and I will recommend it to you.

David Re: Lovett... This book would have been far better if it treated the female characters with some amount of respect as opposed to the Madonna/Whore subtext Puzo takes for any of his strong female characters. S.C.'s mistress is the most developed woman in the book and he makes it clear that the size of her vagina is her most pressing concern. It was unclear what he was trying to accomplish with that, but maybe you can enlighten me. Just swap all the gender roles and I guarantee THAT would be a book you would find offensive.

Lovett.nicholas Actually, no. A female could write a book with less than favorable male archetypes and I would be fine about it. I certainly wouldn't wring a female author up for outdated gender roles with a minor male character, because a treatment of masculinity probably wasn't what she was trying to accomplish.

That's what it's all about, isn't it? Never judge a writer for what he's not trying to accomplish. I don't see similar reviews about the work of Cormac McCarthy. I'm five novels deep into his work, and there isn't one female character of any substance. Yet he keeps winning awards and this deflects any criticism.

Make no mistake, this is just snobbery.

Lovett.nicholas And you know what? Here's the bottom line for me. I'm 28, and this was my favorite novel when I was 16. Now I would notice and question the issues with gender roles, but those types of discussions aren't relevant for Puzo's primary audience.

message 23: by Kaion (new) - rated it 1 star

Kaion Well, Lovett, I am a woman, and at sixteen I would've found Puzo's extremely sexist portrayals of women disturbing and harmful. Don't assume your experiences are the those of the "primary audience", nor that popularity is validity.

Lovett.nicholas I don't care if you're a thirty year old brontasaurus or a moldy peanut butter sandwich, your criticism is off base. Frankly, it reeks of a personal agenda. Pull up the New York Times review, I doubt they're lamenting the lack of a strong female lead.

Lovett.nicholas Vagina Girl is a sub-plot to develop the character of Santino Corleone and establish the Las Vegas setting that was critical in later chapters. I doubt you finished the book. This review stinks!

Lovett.nicholas David, I have heard of Winslow, and I want to get into his stuff. Thanks for the recommendation.

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