The Barnes & Noble Review
After a visit to the Vatican in 1983, Mario Puzo, bestselling author of The Godfather and Omerta, "was so enchanted by the look, the feel and food of Italy, so taken by its history," Carol Gino explains, "that he wanted to write a novel about it." Nearly 20 years in the making, The Family is that novel.
Set in Rome in the last years of the 15th century, Puzo's final book (completed by Gino, his companion for many years) is an absorbing, highly entertaining, fictional account of the rise and rule -- and eventual fall -- of that notorious first family of dysfunction during the Renaissance, the Borgias. Fast-paced and well researched, The Family -- in its effort to make such scandalous characters as the Borgias more human -- may well be the most ambitious novel of Puzo's career.
Cardinal Roderigo Borgia is charismatic and handsome, a born leader and a perfidious man of the cloth who ascends to the papacy as Pope Alexander VI in 1492, when Italian city-states are competing for land and the Vatican is competing for souls. He is also the loving father of four children, two of whom become pawns in their father's implacable drive for power. Cesare, Roderigo's oldest son, grows from an insecure cardinal to a fierce military leader; and Lucrezia, Roderigo's beautiful, seductive daughter -- and her father's favorite (not to mention her brother's incestuous bedmate) -- becomes the marriage link that unites nations and divides hearts. Throughout Roderigo's wheeling and dealing, the Renaissance is in full swing as religion competes against humanism and the Church seeks autonomous control of what will one day become a united Italy. As in E. L. Doctrow's Ragtime and Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, historical figures pepper the narrative. Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci (whose military inventions help Cesare kick some serious tail), and Ferdinand and Isabella all make guest appearances, though at times they seem more like window dressing than actual characters.
While this blood-is-thicker-than-water tale is more summative than explorative (you don't really get into the heads of the Borgias as well as you do the Corleones), Puzo still knows how to tell a good story. The Family is an energetic novel, filled with enthusiasm and affection for the subject matter and the characters. Puzo's swan song may not be his finest work, but it is a robust, passionate love letter to a land, a history, and a culture that defined him as a writer and a man. (Stephen Bloom)
Before his death in 2001, Puzo (The Last Don) had begun work on a novel featuring the 15th-century Borgias, whom he regarded as "the original crime family." There are obvious parallels between the Borgias and the Corleone clan immortalized in The Godfather, but the resemblances are mostly superficial, at least as they are presented in this limp historical romance. The story opens with Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia manipulating papal elections in 1492 to become the new Pope Alexander. Determined to establish a family dynasty, he appoints his son Cesare cardinal in his stead and, after a strategically engineered episode of incest between siblings Cesare and Lucrezia, begins ruthlessly eliminating rivals and marrying his children into alliances with the offspring of noble families of France and Spain. But Cesare would rather be a soldier, and Lucrezia would rather marry for love; these conflicted desires contribute as much as risky political power plays to undoing the Borgias in a single generation. Though Gino (Puzo's companion, author of Then an Angel Came) is credited for the posthumous completion, Puzo's true collaborator is history, and it proves a difficult partner. Obligated not to deviate from known facts, the narrative whizzes methodically through highlights of the Renaissance, embellishing events with snatches of imagined dialogue, purple prose ("For love can steal free will using no weapons but itself") and cameos by Machiavelli, Michelangelo and da Vinci. Overwhelmed by the vast pageant of events, the characters never achieve dramatic stature. Puzo's diehard fans will surely put the novel on their summer hit list, but they may feel, in Sonny Corleone's words, that "this isn't personal,it's business." Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Much will probably be made of this last novel by the celebrated author of The Godfather and a slew of other gangster novels. After Puzo's death in 2001, this historical fiction was completed by Carol Gino, his companion. The subject is the misunderstood family Borgia, who were sometimes malevolent, always maligned, and mostly political part Clintons, part Kennedys, part Sopranos. Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI and moves into the Vatican with his mistresses and children. Alexander deeply loves yet still controls his offspring, including the ambitious and handsome warrior Cesare, who wants to shed his cardinal robes to lead the papal army in conquest of central Italy; the sweet but flawed Lucretia, whose incestuous relationship with Cesare raises eyebrows; and lusty Juan, who carries on with the wife of little brother Jofre, who in turn becomes murderously jealous. Most of the melodramatic murder and mayhem comes straight out of the history books, but the characters lack depth, with their motivations only mildly explored. This late 15th-century family's story is more soap opera than serious treatment of the troubled dynasty that influenced the Renaissance. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/01.] David Nudo, formerly with "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The late (1920-99) Puzo's last novel, completed by his companion Gino, is historical fiction, about the 15th-century Borgia clan-a book on which Puzo had worked sporadically since 1983. The scattershot composition is all too obvious. Canned history predominates, and minimal dramatic action is more often summarized than portrayed. Nor are Puzo's characters especially compelling, though the cast includes such notable late-Renaissance figures as Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, first vice-chancellor (that is, consigliere) to Pope Innocent, then himself pontiff; the children this "son of the church" fathers on his various mistresses (such as infamous siblings Cesare and Lucrezia); and immortals like Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo Buonarotti, and Leonardo da Vinci (the last of whom advises the military-minded Cesare on the construction of impregnable fortifications). The story is focused almost exclusively on shifting political alliances and the arranged marriages that create and sustain them-and machinations involving the royalty and nobility of Rome, Naples, France, and Spain tend quickly to blur together in the reader's mind. Puzo and Gino inject some juice into the ongoing incestuous love between much-married Lucrezia and her vainglorious brother, but the latter is so preoccupied with conquering new territories (ostensibly for the glory of the church) that we soon lose interest in their fabled amorality. The fates of a Roman satirist who unwisely vilifies Cesare and of the radical Dominican friar Savonarola are promising subplots only very sketchily developed. Alas, all these gorgeously bedecked schemers aren't anything like the charismatic monsters we expect (we know Vito and the otherCorleones; Rodrigo Borgia and his brood are no Corleones). They're number-crunching, publicity-conscious powerbrokers: a bunch of 15th-century Dick Cheneys. The old, black magic just isn't here. The Family is Godfather Lite. Eminently skippable.