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The Family

The Family: Main | Reviews | Excerpts

The Family © 2001 by The Estate of Mario Puzo and Carol Gino

Book dedicated to Bert Fields
"Who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and who could be the greatest consiglieri of them all"

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Excerpts from

The Family

From the PROLOGUE

As the Black Death swept through Europe, devastating half the population, many citizens turned their eyes in desperation from the Heavens to Earth.

And so it was that God fell to Earth as Man, and the rigid religious doctrine of the Middle Ages lost its power and was replaced by the study of the great ancient civilizations of Rome, Greece, and Egypt.

Then, Rome was not the Holy City; it was a lawless place. In the streets, citizens were robbed, houses were plundered, prostitution was rampant, and hundreds of people were murdered each week.

Moreover, the country we now know as Italy did not yet exist. Instead, there were five great powers: Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples, and Rome. Within the boundaries of the "boot," there were many independent city-states ruled by old families led by local kings, feudal lords, dukes, or bishops. Inside the country, neighbor fought neighbor for territory.

From outside the country, there came the threat of invasion by foreign powers who wished to expand their empires.

The Holy Catholic Church was in turmoil for the lawless behavior was not limited to citizens alone. Men of high position in the church -- forbidden to marry -- visited courtesans and kept many mistresses; bribes were offered and taken.

It was said by many a disillusioned citizen that everything in Rome was for sale. Enough money could buy churches, priests, pardons, and even the forgiveness of God.

This was the Renaissance; the time of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his family.

From the AFTERWORD (by Carol Gino)

The biggest surprise for me when I first met Mario Puzo was that he was nothing like his characters. The Mario I came to know was a husband, a father, a lover, a mentor, and a true friend. He was kind and generous, authentic as any human being could be, true and funny and smart. From him came the loyalty, the fairness, the compassion that he wrote about in his books, but not the villainy. That aspect came from his nightmares, not from his dreams. He was a shy, soft-spoken, generous man who held very view judgments about others. We spent twenty years together, playing, brainstorming, and working.

Mario was fascinated with Renaissance Italy, and especially with the Borgia family. He swore that they were the original crime family, and that their adventures were much more treacherous than any of the stories he told about the Mafia. He believed the Popes were the first Dons -- Pope Alexander the greatest Don of all.

For most of the years we spent together, Mario told Borgia stories. Their escapades both shocked and amused him, and he even rewrote some of the incidents to make them contemporary enough to put in his Mafia books.

One of Mario's greatest pleasures was traveling, and we did it often. After we visited the Vatican in 1983, he was so enchanted by the look, feel, and food of Italy, so taken by its history, that he wanted to write a novel about it. It was that many years ago that he began to write the Borgia book, though even then he referred to it as "just another family story." Although he would write several other novels in the years between, each time he had difficulty writing, each time his creativity felt blocked or he felt discouraged, he went back to the Borgia book for inspiration or refuge.

--

After his heart attack in 1992, I asked him again. "Have you thought about the Borgia book?"

"I have to write two more Mafia books first, and then I'll be set," he said. "Besides, I still enjoy hanging out with those characters. I'm not sure I'm ready to let them go just yet."

During the time we spent in Malibu while he was recovering from his heart surgery, whenever he was uncomfortable or wanted a diversion, he read books on the Italian Renaissance and scribbled Borgia pages for me to read and us to discuss.

The only time he was willing to leave his house and go out to dinner to meet someone was when Bert Fields -- a distinguished historian as well as Mario's lawyer and one of his dearest friends -- was coming into town. Bert was as excited and amused about the power and treachery of the Renaissance as Mario. "When are you going to get the Borgia book together?" Bert always asked.

"I'm working on it," Mario would say.

As time went on, Mario called Bert frequently to trade stories, asking questions and sharing observations. Each time he finished a conversation with Bert, Mario and I would talk about the Borgias, and he was excited again about writing the stories of the Family.

--

"I'll help you finish the Borgia book," I offered one day in 1995.

"I don't collaborate until after I'm dead," he said, smiling at me.

"Okay," I said. "But then what do I do with an unfinished book?" I sounded calmer than I felt.

He laughed at me. "Finish it," he said.

"I can't finish it. I don't remember what you taught me," I said.

He patted me on the shoulder and said, "You can do it. You know the story. I've written so much of it and we've talked about it for years. You can fill in the missing pieces." Then he touched my cheek, and said, "I really have taught you all I know."

Two weeks before he died, though his heart was failing, Mario was still completely lucid. And one day, as I was sitting in his study across from his desk, he reached down and pulled a bunch of pages, handwritten, from the bottom drawer of his desk. I thought it was something from Omerta, but it wasn't. "Read it," he said, and handed it to me.

And as I read I began to cry. It was the last chapter of the Borgia book.

"Finish it," he said. "Promise me."

And so I did.

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©2001 The Estate of Mario Puzo and Carol Gino.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of ReganBooks.

 

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