The Barnes and Noble Review
After a visit to the Vatican in 1983, Mario Puzo, bestselling author of <cart2.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0451167716"> The Godfather </a> and <cart2.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0345432401"> Omerta </a>, "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 <cart2.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0452279070">Ragtime</a><div class="text3"> and Glen David Gold's <cart2.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0786867345">Carter Beats the Devil</a><div class="text3">, 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)