[Michael Corleone, the Godfather’s son, is in exile in Sicily after a revenge shooting. One day he and his companion/bodyguards go on a walk into the country]
[Along] came a bevy of village girls flanked by two stout matrons clad in black. They were from the village ….and were going into the fields to pick flowers. They were gathering the pink sulla, purple wisteria, mixing them with orange and lemon blossoms. The girls, not seeing the men resting in the orange grove, came closer and closer.
They were dressed in cheap gaily printed frocks that clung to their bodies. They were still in their teens but with the full womanliness sun-drenched flesh ripened into so quickly. Three or four of them started chasing one girl, chasing her toward the grove. The girl being chased held a bunch of huge purple grapes in her left hand and with her right hand was picking grapes off the cluster and throwing them at her pursuers. She had a crown of ringleted hair as purple-black as the grapes and her body seemed to be bursting out of its skin…
She was all ovals— oval-shaped eyes, the bones of her face, the contour of her brow. Her skin was an exquisite dark creaminess and her eyes, enormous, dark violet or brown but dark with long heavy lashes shadowed her lovely face. Her mouth was rich without being gross, sweet without being weak and dyed dark red with the juice of the grapes. She was so incredibly lovely that Fabrizzio murmured, “Jesus Christ, take my soul, I’m dying,” as a joke, but the words came out a little too hoarsely. As if she had heard him, the girl came down off her toes and whirled away from them and fled back to her pursuers. Her haunches moved like an animal’s beneath the tight print of her dress; as pagan and as innocently lustful. When she reached her friends she whirled around again and her face was like a dark hollow against the field of bright flowers. She extended an arm, the hand full of grapes pointed toward the grove. The girls fled laughing, with the black-clad, stout matrons scolding them on.
commentary: This is my book of 1969 for Rich Westwood’s crimes of the century meme over at Past Offences.
It’s an old favourite of mine: a perfect example of a great trashy novel. It is not well-written, but it is straightforward, tells a fascinating story, and keeps you reading right till the end. Now, it is hard to separate it from the great Francis Ford Coppola film (and Godfather 2), and from all the Mafia books and films and TV shows that have followed. It was really the first of the genre: when it was published, it was breaking new ground, and its huge popularity was a surprise to everyone. But it had everything, in an old-fashioned unreconstructed way: strong men, plots and surprises, crime made to look glamorous and compelling, violence, beautiful women, and a lot of sex. It was very popular among teenagers back in the day, as being a close-to-respectable book with some very racy scenes in it.
I have written before about the (very convincing) theory that Mario Puzo made up a lot of what was seen as authentic Mafia lore, and that the streetboys then adopted his slang and descriptions because they sounded so good. In this entry I talked about the opening scene at Connie Corleone’s wedding. The meeting above is going to lead to another, very different wedding: this is almost a fairytale interlude with Michael, the quintessential American, dealing with his Sicilian roots. The passage above couldn’t be much more symbolic, with the pagan lusts and the grapes and the hand held out. The episode with the beautiful sexy Apollonia ends in a way that convinces Michael he must go back to New York and accept his destiny.
As a book of 1969, the book doesn’t offer much, as it starts in the 1940s and I’m guessing covers 10-15 years at most. But perhaps there was some way in which the era was ready for the romanticizing of crime, and of recent American history – no-one expected the film to do well either.
My conclusion hasn’t changed from the previous times I read it: It is a great American story, with a superb moral framework, and what is says about American history, immigration, and attitudes is well-worth reading, and will remain so for a long time.
The picture is by Giovanni Sottocornola, and is from the Athenaeum website.