When I made the decision to read The Family, it was simply because it was Mario Puzo’s last published work. It was published posthumously and had to be finished by Puzo’s long-time girlfriend Carol Gino. I’d read a few reviews about the book and noticed that the reception seemed to be split down the middle; this intrigued me even more as someone who appreciated some of Puzo’s other works. I knew nothing about the actual story of The Family going in, and all signs (including the book blurb) pointed towards it being another crime based mafia novel.
After diving into the first chapter, I was a little shocked to find this to be something completely different to Puzo’s other work. The Family is based on Pope Alexander VI and his family, who lived during the Renaissance era. Even more shocking to me was the fact that I was starting to enjoy it. Considering I’d already had somewhat of an interest in Italian history it shouldn’t have been as shocking, but generally when a book turns out to be not what I was expecting I get put off. However, I found The Family to be a solid tale throughout. As a gamer I was even more delighted to come across references that I’d previously played in historical game series Assassin’s Creed.
Mario Puzo described the Borgia family to be the “the original crime family,” which gives them some kind of central relation to Puzo’s previous themes. The crime element is never the most prevalent part of this book; much of the intrigue comes from Pope Alexander VI’s (aka: Rodrigo Borgia) determination to establish a family dynasty. It’s interesting to see how Rodrigo Borgia makes calculated moves to put himself in a position of power and then marry off his children to better his political relations with Spain and France. Early on in the book we see Rodrigo encourage an act of incest between his eldest son Cesare and his only daughter Lucrezia, all so that she’ll be eased into her sexuality before her arranged marriage.
Later on in the book we see the Pope’s children in numerous internal conflicts. Cesare wishes to fight as a soldier instead of being a cardinal and Lucrezia would rather marry for love than for politics. Rodrigo’s other two sons also get into conflict over a woman which leads to a serious outcome. The calculated fashion in which Rodrigo runs his family draws many parallels to the Corleone family, represented in Puzo’s other works. It’s easy to see now that Puzo was deeply inspired by the Boriga family throughout much of his writing life, and its made even more clear by the fact that he played with the idea for this book for twenty years.
Originally, when I heard that Carol Gino had to finish this book for Puzo I wasn’t a fan of the idea. I thought it may be too easy to tell that the book had a second writer. Thankfully, the writing seemed consistent all the way through, to the point that I often forgot that Gino was involved. This is the sign of a good co-writer and the story flows without any tidal shift. Carol Gino should also be hailed, as she includes a touching Afterward in which she sheds some light on Puzo’s obsession with the Borgia family.
In this Afterward she talks of how she and Puzo would discuss the Borgia family for hours, and about how Borgia even sold many of his publisher friends on the idea of the book. When Puzo fell sick he gave Gino everything he’d written on the story and made her promise to finish it.
When it comes to The Family, it’s not a book that will please everybody, particularly not fans of Puzo’s other work. If you enjoy historical fiction and family scandals then you will get enjoyment from this book. Ultimately it may not be a book to run to if you fancy an exciting new epic tale, or a book on organised crime for that matter. Read the family if you really want to know what made Mario Puzo tick, or if you generally love the Italian renaissance era. Otherwise, there may be hundreds of other books to consider before you get to this one. With that being said I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and believe it doesn’t deserve as much criticism as it has received. Some books just aren’t for the mass audience but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t good reads.
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