I’m not sure where to begin or how to begin. Not my favorite book, but honesty compels me to give The Godmother at least four stars. Who knows, by the end of this review I might have changed my mind all over again. I am vacillating, which is something new to me. Maybe. Sometimes.
The life story of the widow Patience Portefeux is at times, amusing, other times poignant. Brought up in luxurious neglect for most of the year, Patience is the daughter of a Tunisian born Mafiosi and a camp survivor. She is widowed at an early age and left in genteel poverty with two daughters; she must work almost constantly to keep the genteel part of their poverty realistic.
.Patience has worked for 25 years as a Franco-Arab translator for the courts but her main source of income is from being the translator of the product from the wiretaps of various drug squads. She translates the diverse Arabic dialects into French. Patience’s boyfriend, the kind Philippe, is promoted to head one of the drug squads.
At 53, instead of looking forward to an easier life in retirement, Patience is reaching the stage of truly desperate because of school fees for her daughters and nursing home care for her mother.
One day, translating a wiretap intercept, Patience figures a way out of her almost hopeless dilemma. She is able to intervene in a massive drug deal and she ultimately becomes the mysterious Godmother. Patience is not greedy; she just wants her mother cared for and for her daughters to have a bit more security.
I will have to assume Stephanie Smee’s translation to be on point with Cayre’s writing stiletto sharp, shown in some cases by her skewering of certain aspects of French society while showing tenderness to other parts.
It was a bit difficult to disregard my life history in order to appreciate Patience as an admirable anti-hero. Especially with the damage Patience did to some people who did not deserve it, her attitude verging on callousness. On the other hand, at the end, Patience partially redeemed herself doing some severe damage to people who deserved it.
I was fascinated by Cayre’s honest takes on French society. We might be newly encouraging racism, but we are nowhere as bad as the French seem to be. This is not just from The Godmother. I’ve just read two books back- to- back about France and the rampant racism to be found. Cayre is also coldly apprising on other social issues including the treatment of immigrants, the elderly and employment laws.
The first person narrative is by turns droll, grimly self appraising, and sometimes psychopathic. Cayre is often devastating, writing about putting dogs down then in the next paragraphs about life in nursing homes. Oh yes, the two are strongly connected. Then again, I still can’t figure out Patience’s explanations on how to launder money. Not that I need to, but one can dream.
Okay okay, I’m sticking with four stars.
Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.