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Review: ‘The Prince,” By Vito Bruschini

The Prince

By Vito Bruschini

Atria Books

435 pages, $26

By Lee Coppola

NEWS BOOK REVIEWER

Italian writer Vito Brucschini wrote “The Prince” when a friend suggested the literary world needed another “Godfather.”

Bruschini’s recipe for a “Godfather” redux was to begin in Sicily with its customs and mores, add a dash of romance, brew in family ties, ladle in violence (lots of violence,) move to America, sprinkle in more romance, then add even more violence before returning to Sicily.

It’s a sumptuous dish, but it doesn’t have the flavor and body of Mario Puzo’s epic.

In Bruschini’s novel, Ferdinando Licata, a Sicilian nobleman known as the prince, plays the part of Vito Corleone. Licata flees to America when the Fascists start taking control of his homeland. There, he rises to the highest echelon of the Mafia, the capo di capi, boss of all bosses.

Bruschini weaves a complex tale abounding in subplots with characters aplenty. In Part One he annoyingly switches between 1921 and 1939, forcing the reader to recall the difference that 18 years begs. Part Two covers 1939 to 1943.

The writing often sparkles, as when Bruschini describes third-class passage to America. “They were a humanity crushed by poverty and hunger, ignorance and despair. For some a glimmer of hope remained, but every one of them, even in abject squalor, possessed a sense of dignity that would make them struggle against life’s adversities, never giving up until, they breathed their last.” Sometimes, though, his prose seems trite, but, then again, some of his nuances could have been lost when his words were translated into English.

Nevertheless, as Puzo did, he develops his characters fully. There’s Saro, “The Godfather’s” Al Pacino. He is as pure as the wind-driven snow until he arrives in America and finds himself under the tutelage of the prince.

There’s Jano, the angry black-shirt who watched his mother and brothers and sisters killed and didn’t learn who did it until Bruschini decided to tell him when the novel comes to an end. In fact, the final pages reveal the answer to many of “The Prince’s ”mysteries, although some revelations bordered on the melodramatic.

There’s Mena, the lover Saro left behind when he fled to America. She married Jano, Saro’s arch-enemy, and birthed a son whose sire contributes to the melodrama. There’s Peppino Ragusa, the kindly doctor who adopted the orphaned Saro. A Jew, he was stripped of his patients and tossed into jail on trumped-up charges when the black-shirted Fascists took control of his Sicilian village.

“The Prince,” although a novel, flirts often with history, forcing the reader to determine fact from fiction. For example, Buffalo’s William Donovan comes into play when Bruschini delves into World War II and the part the Mafia played in helping allied forces invade Sicily. Saro, sent back to Sicily to gather intelligence for Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services, provides critical information and earns plaudits from Wild Bill.

Was there a Saro Ragusa in Donovan’s past?

Bruschini also examines the roots of the Mafia, its birth in Sicily to protect the populace against invaders before it turned to corruption, then its spread to the United States, where it flourished thanks to Prohibition.

But it’s obvious Bruschini plays loose with the facts in other phases of “The Prince,” and Thomas E. Dewey would have a strong case of libel against the author were he alive today. That’s because Bruschini has then District Attorney Dewey paying $5,000 to a prostitute to perjure herself and help put mob kingpin Lucky Luciano behind bars.

And, according to the author, in a historical note from real life, that’s where the Mafia and the military come together.

Although “The Prince” doesn’t measure up to “The Godfather” in many aspects, it exceeds its predecessor in one area – violence. Mayhem dominates throughout:

• A family is slaughtered while a 5-year-old watches.

• A heinous land baron is killed, his penis is stuffed in his mouth and his body burned by a vengeful killer.

• A religious statute explodes during a New York City street pageant, killing innocent women and children in a mob vendetta.

• A Mafia transgressor hangs from his hands and bleeds to death after being forced to swallow a live rat.

Gruesome? You bet, and the reader wonders how they’ll deal with that scene if “The Prince” ever reaches the screen. And Hollywood seems the intended destination. A blurb on the book jacket even touts the novel as “made to be adopted for the cinema.”

Could there be “The Prince, Part II,” in the future?

Lee Coppola is a former print and TV journalist, a former federal prosecutor and the former dean of St. Bonaventure University’s journalism school.