The Schlockfather

By Allen Barra

By Salon Staff
July 25, 2000 11:12PM (UTC)
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I couldn't agree more with Allen Barra that literally all of Mario Puzo's books, except for "The Godfather," were virtually unreadable. And believe me, I've tried them all. But there are three points in Barra's review of Puzo's last book that should be challenged:

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1. "'The Godfather' itself would be unread today if people didn't go to it looking for a deeper relationship with the movie." Actually, the book was a smash hit before the movie was made, so it's unlikely that it owes its ongoing popularity entirely to the movie. Alone among Puzo's works, "The Godfather" is indisputably a great book. It's truly amazing that an author whose other books were so mediocre miraculously brought forth such a masterpiece in mid-career.

2. "The annals of organized crime are dominated by names like (a number of Jewish Mafia names inserted here), but the only Jews in Puzo's books are silent partners in gambling casinos." Why has Barra focused on Jewish people? Virtually every ethnic group has some sort of Mafia. Even Caucasians have their own powerful Mafia: the United States Congress.

3. "Puzo [commits the] all-but-unpardonable crime of making millions of people believe that Frank Sinatra made it only because of the Mafia." Years before 'The Godfather' was published, I distinctly remember hearing repeatedly the rumor that Sinatra and his Mafia henchmen forced Tommy Dorsey at gunpoint to tear up his long-term contract with Sinatra after he became famous. I'm not in any way saying this outrageous rumor was true, only that Puzo wasn't the one to put the Sinatra-Mafia connection into popular mythology.

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-- Jim Hickel

My impression when first I read "The Godfather" was that it was a novelization of "The Valachi Papers" by Peter Maas, as Puzo seems to have cribbed a lot of the incidents and characters from that book. Puzo himself admitted, in an interview for the New York Times Magazine, that he got material from "the public record."

I agree that Puzo is a hack writer. But, other than other writers, who notices anymore?

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-- Paul Thran


Salon Staff

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