Pupetta, who died last December at 86, may be the star but she is hardly the only engaging figure in this crisply written, dutifully researched book exploring the role of women in a sector of Italian society not noted for its embrace of a #MeToo ethos ... [Nadeau's] prose is straightforward, with welcome flashes of irony.
Pupetta’s story anchors a unique look at organized crime and the underworld that Rome-based journalist Nadeau reveals: the lives of women in organized crime and the underworld. That perspective makes The Godmother unique and refreshing for this genre, and raises intriguing questions about women’s roles ... Approaching her subject with a keen eye and a sense of dark humour, Nadeau writes a compelling and entertaining narrative ... Nadeau is also attuned to the absurd ... The world of organized crime is so often portrayed in macho terms, Nadeau pulls back the curtain on the role of women. In a genre choked with pretenders and posers, this is the real thing. The Godmother hits its mark.
Nadeau describes well the culture of normalized misogyny in Italy, as well as how 'the mafia and the malavita, ‘dishonest lifestyle,’ it produces are just another facet of the culture.' The trouble is that the book’s tone is all over the place, going from a kind of girl bossification of mafia women to a celebration of anti-mafia prosecutors for imprisoning them — sometimes on the same page ... reads like an overcorrection, and Nadeau — who clearly likes her subjects — still seems invested in the dichotomy between the capital 'B' Bad mafia and capital 'G' Good anti-mafia police and prosecutors. This is especially strange as Nadeau admits several times that the various syndicates continue to operate successfully precisely because they’re involved in the highest echelons of legitimate state power. The Italian state — which, Nadeau acknowledges, fails to support its struggling citizens — and the parallel state that encompasses the mafia don’t seem that separate. This makes it all the more troubling that Nadeau relies far more heavily on the opinions and speculations of those most interested in punishing mafia women than on the women’s testimonies, which she often concludes are full of lies and omissions anyway ... Confusingly, Nadeau stoops to the very contempt toward women that she’s criticizing, often describing a women’s physical appearance as if it’s noteworthy ... [Nadeau] implies that women don’t have a choice when they remain inside the mafia social circles they’re born into, but she also implies that they are to blame for staying when they could turn to the state for help — and then describes children being tortured to punish mothers who betray their families ... The nuance is there to be gleaned in The Godmother if one goes looking for it. But because Nadeau’s wrestling with the complexity of her material reads more accidental than intentional, it may leave readers confused as to her sweeping conclusions and assumptions.