You know when you pick a book by chance and it turns out to be a great read? That’s what happened to me with The Family. As I browsed books online, I was attracted to the cover and the storyline. I’m a big fan of The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, and because I grew up in northern New Jersey, I like reading about places that are familiar to me. But I hadn’t heard of The Family.
Although there’s always a storyline in these movies and shows about getting out of life in the mafia and the dangers that go with leaving, what’s unique about The Family is that all the main characters struggle with the choices they’ve made. They ask themselves two questions: “What would I have done if I hadn’t been pulled into the Family?” and “What control can I take over the life I do lead?” Some, desperate to escape, ask, “How can I get out of this alive?”
The story spans twenty years and begins in 1928 Brooklyn. Readers meet two girlhood friends and next-door neighbors, Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo. Sofia’s father, Joey, is ambitious. Antonia’s father, Carlo, however, is not cut out for the violence.
“By the time Carlo was keeping a shaky-handed, shallow-breathed watch outside of rooms where unspeakable acts of violence were doled out for minor infractions against the Fianzo Family, it was too late for him to extract himself.”
Lives and family dynamics change forever when Carlo disappears and Joey is put in charge of his own faction.
Written from a third-person omniscient point of view, readers enter into each character’s inner thoughts and reasonings. Tension develops in a multitude of ways. Lina Russo, Carlo’s wife is trapped. She hates that the Family takes care of her after Carlo’s disappearance and does all she can to withdraw. And though they don’t know the details of the Family business, Sofia and Antonia understand they are part of a family they can never truly leave. Their tendencies waver between making their own lives and accepting their lot. This is especially true when they marry and have children. One thing they do know is that neither wants to be like their mother.
I really liked the historical aspect of this book. The author shows how Italian immigrants played an important role in building New York at the turn of the century, but they resented the lack of respect they got. She describes how the Italian mafia developed and changed during Prohibition and the Depression and how they took advantage of new opportunities during World War 2. What’s interesting are the conflicting roles the Family plays during this time. For example, during the war, they got into the forgery business, selling new identities to Jews fleeing Europe. So, helping desperate people, but charging them to be safe.
The author also describes the Jewish mafia and introduces Saul Grossman, one of the most interesting characters in the book. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there.
If you’re considering reading The Family, I’d describe it as more literary and introspective than sensational. The theme of choosing an alternate life reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.
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