FOOLS DIE: MARIO PUZO
First Published: 1978
Year of Publication: 1992 by Mandarin Paperbacks
Price: (well, the tag says U.K £5.99, but I bought it from a second hand book shop at Saket Community Center for Rs.100)
Now, as a reader, I was a little cynical about the approach, as I had never read such a prologue before. However, here’s where I lost it. The first book, which is just a few pages, blew my mind away. It is an amalgamation of the craziest ideas I have ever come across. I expected Puzo to be brutal, but not from the very first page, for God’s sake! He talks about life, love, death, gender, virtue- all against each other. Just when you think that he might show some mercy, he hits you harder.
And yes, you will not be comfortable throughout, but Puzo compels you to stay till the end. The protagonist is John Merlyn, who is portrayed as a writer. A great lover of literature. A faithful husband, a doting father and an honest man. But Puzo seems too obsessed with the power of destruction and makes sure that all good things come to an end and that too pretty soon. Merlyn the Magician turns out to be unfaithful and crooked at the end and still holds on to his vanity as he feels that he has won the battle of life while others gave in to Death.
Apart from the protagonist, one can’t help admiring the strength and personality of the other characters who hold the plot together. Osano is portrayed as a contradiction of everything one believes to be true. He is the rebel. He rejoices in taking the credit for doing everything that makes the society wince. He is the self-proclaimed ruler of the world which he considers naïve and beneath him in every way. We could have discarded his character as a snob. But Puzo does not want to make it that easy. In bits and pieces the reader is given a dose of the true genius that Osano was or was thought to be by many.
Janelle Lambert, Merlyn’s love interest, is another character of immense strength. She comes out as the true hero, as even the narrator admits not to put her down in any way. She is not meant to seen as the wrong-doer or a victim. She stays true to her character till the very end. (She is my favorite character in the book).
Others like Malomar, Gronevelt and Cully Cross get their fair share of credit, as each one is unique in his own way. Malomar is respected for his devotion to movies, Gronevelt for his unshakable belief in the “law of percentage” and Cully for his cunning and charm, and a good heart.
The two characters who did not get their fair share of stardom are Valerie and Artie. Both are praised for their virtues, their honesty and simplicity are their adornments. But they are quite non-existent in the battle of ideas. They are the subjects of Merlyn’s adoration but they are not the ones to pull the strings on his head when he is at his creative best.
The battle of wits, the war of virtue and vice, the constant upheaval of a human mind are a few things which makes you wonder at the simplicity of your own existence ,the one which you are so familiar with. This book compelled me to come out of my comfort zone and think about things from the other side of the fence, only the grass wasn't greener this time.