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Friday, December 23, 2011

"Honor Thy Father", the real life of the Mafia

Honor Thy Father- Gay Talese

Last April I had my "initiation" into the prose of Gay Talese. "The Gay Talese Reader. Portraits and Encounters" was a blast for me. A magnificent collection of his articles, stunning pieces of "fiction with real names", as he refers to them, that dignify the profession of journalism, nowadays so deservedly discredited. Mesmerized for what I read, I wanted more urgently. But the topics of the two other books recently published in Spain, made my have some reservations and postpone my next reading. Early 1950s sexuality in America ("Thy Neighbor's Wife")? The Mafia? But I finally got my hands on "Honor Thy Father". Lucky me.

My prejudices were easy to resume. The Mob, on a heavyweight volume wrote too many years ago? And the Mafia, again? I'm pretty sure we will all agree if I say gangsters has been used and abused by American art/entertainment, to me being exploited to satiety, and memorable exceptions aside, creating a glamorous, mythical and unrealistic image of this "traditional" organized crime, that has little to do with the Mafia today. So what could "Honor Thy Father" offer me? In a sentence: a mind-blowing insight to a time in America, a surprisingly human story, and an absorbing and monumental, brilliantly written, work by Talese.

This is a superb job of reporting, a task so detailed (almost seven years of patient and passionate work, from 1965 to 1971 where the book was published to become an immediate success) and intense that today seems completely impossible. The amount of many little things, facts, structure, behaviours, secrets and attitudes conform an intricate puzzle that, once completed, portrays the vivid and realistic complete picture of a way of life that was approaching to its end, vanishing from a previous time of splendour, and above all, an intimate approach to a unique family: the Bonanno family.

Because "Honor Thy Father" is probably the culmination of what has been called "literary journalism". Talese achieves an unbelievable depth and richness in the real-life account of the Bonanno family, in particular from Salvatore "Bill" Bonnano, the son of Don Joseph Bonanno, who "inherits" his father's business, an inheritance that is full of the traditions of a determined ethnic group that clashes with a time and a family that is also very American and is changing alongside with its times, once he mysteriously disappears in 1964, to reappear after, causing the start of the Banana War, the Mafia open conflict that took place in New York in the late 60s.

Talese is capable not only of detailing us every side of the Mafiosi family and starting from them, the whole universe of the Mob during those years, but he also is able to get into the mind of Bill Bonanno, and make us  understand that probably he didn't want to follow the steps of his father, but that he couldn't do anything else.  It was his fate. Through his eyes we see (read) a story that goes in various directions (the war, the family roots, the trial), something that at first can be a bit confusing (the minor and only complaint I have) but that makes sense in order to provide us with the most accurate document you can imagine.  

"Honor Thy Father" is masterful book that stands out as a gangster story, from uprising to decadence, but also as a document of assimilation, social and cultural evolution, and family ties. It is so rich and deep that no matter for how long I could kept writing this review, I wouldn't do justice to it. So please, forget The Sopranos (the Bonanno family didn't like it anyway), forget all Martin Scorsese films and their imitators and read Gay Talese. And if you allow me one last apostilization, after reading Talese, if you still need a film about the Mafia, choose James Gray works

SCORE: 8,5/10 

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