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Defining A Man’s Life

Work: “Fools Die” by Mario Puzo

I didn’t know what to feel when I first read Chapter 1 of Mario Puzo’s “Fools Die.” It started strong with this:

“Listen to me. I will tell you the truth about a man’s life.”

And it turned out that the truth he’s trying to tell mostly discussed life, women, and death.

Further reading introduced me to the meat of the prologue, one which allowed for a small glimpse of a maze that is the fiction writer’s mind. A gem, it truly is.

But, precious as it is, I can’t fully grasp the point of that intro. My admiration for Mario Puzo kept me reading, though, and I’m thankful I held on. A vivid scene of the casino, formed by the strong smell of signature perfumes and shingling sounds of coins, transported me to an underground gambler’s corner in late-night Las Vegas. Amid the busy evening, a perceptive character’s inner musings floated above the scenario. His observations were extremely profound that they reached me on an emotional level. His thoughts made me feel within me the tragedy brought by instant gratification that looms on the men surrounding him.

Reading on, I was in for a shock when Puzo easily discarded the character I’ve identified with like he was just throwing away some losing casino chips. I was actually angry. Still, the stubborn part of me kept flipping the pages, mostly to know whom the story is all about.

And what a payoff that was. Through following the main man’s story, I was able to see a whole new world of corruption. It started with the US military training. Turns out that rich kids don’t want to spend too much time on their duties, so they’d do any means to hasten it. Further chapters have shown an overview of writers who make a living out of breaking or uplifting newly-published books or selling their bodies for a good review. The sickening trade in Hollywood, the price of a five-minute fame being your nakedness and companionship. It was an eye-opener. But it was also dizzying.

The seemingly infinite crookedness turned me off a lot of times. I would put down the book for weeks before returning to it, only to shut it again after only a few chapters. I eventually reached the last chapters before the book could gather dust, though. Albeit, at a much slower pace.

I was dizzy by Merlin’s adventures. My feminist tendencies made me want to curse him. I questioned how he could turn back to a morally upright human being after all the things he did. I was infuriated. Disappointed.

Oddly, I was also supportive. Even sympathetic. He was that kind of guy- does all the hateful things and still could win your affection.

More chapters, then I crossed paths with the lovely and hateful introduction again. The words, after knowing a little about its author, had much more impact than when I first read it. I cried. I wondered how life was in his eyes. Those six pages were like a summary of his struggles and what he had learned from them.

When I first read the intro, I thought a struggling writer is practicing his voice or something and so I perceived the author with condescending eyes. It was a 360-degree turn when I read it again. I’ve realized that these pages could never be written by an amateur. All I felt was respect and sympathy.

The protagonist was not happy, but I won’t say he’s totally unhappy. He had this lukewarm, uncertain feel in him. It’s like the world is painted in black and white, and no vibrant reds or sparkling golds could make him see beyond his monotonous perception.

And his statement, about death, saying it always surprises him, seemed to be an admission of defeat. It made me realize that being crooked, even if it’s widely accepted in this world, would not ultimately help anyone. You could gain riches and fame by being an asshole, but you would never be contented. You would lose the most important things and would have no way to buy them back.

But if these characters weren’t crooked, could they learn as much? What was the author’s real message? Fight for life no matter how wrecked it is? And that death is most unmerciful to people who are just beginning to live? And what is in it for me?

Reading “Fools Die” has reinforced my opinion about books. A book, especially a novel, has this way of sharing principles and opinions without sounding like it’s forcing them down your throat. You could agree or disagree, even rant and rave, but the pages won’t get annoyed at you nor would it try to change your beliefs. You have absolute control on what to think and do after finishing a story.

For instance, this story once again emphasized that a cruel slap of reality will make any huge dreamer rethink about all the dreams he’s fantasized about as a child, and tragically concluded that those fantasies would never come true. Not all dreamers, though, end up compromising. Some people would find a way to achieve their goals, even those that they’ve formed way back in childhood.

The characters all led wretched lives because they chose the beaten path of crookedness. Maybe they were successful, but there would always be a void inside them. Fools, they were. And they all died. Some physical, others inside.


  • “Fools Die” is a novel by Mario Puzo, author of the critically acclaimed “The Godfather”.
  • I got my copy of the novel from Mpcurious, an online store selling pre-loved books on FB. They reply fast and deliver on time. You could check them out at www.facebook.com/mpcurious/.
  • Looking for a good read? Look no further. Read why The Bible is the best book for you!

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