Who are the Five Families in ‘The Godfather’?

There are a lot of references in Mario Puzo’s famous novel to ‘The Five Families’, which doesn’t seem to include the Corleone Family.

For example in the following passage: ‘For the last year the Corleone Family had waged war against the five great Maffia Families of New York and the carnage had filled the newspapers. If the five families include the Corleone’s, then why doesn’t it say: … against the other four great Mafia Families?

There are many other references, like: ‘The heads of the Five Families made frantic efforts to prepare a defence against the bloody retaliatory war that was sure to follow Sonny’s death.’ Or: ‘The Five Families and the Corleone Empire were in stalemate.’

Then the big meeting of bosses comes, so we can finally learn who the Five Families are and Puzo messes it up. It reads: ‘The representatives of the Five Families of New York were the last to arrive and Tom Hagen was struck by how much more imposing, impressive, these five men were than the out-of-towners, the hicks. For one thing, the five New York Dons were in the old Sicilian tradition, they were ‘men with a belly’ meaning, figuratively, power and courage; and literally, physical flesh, as if the two went together, as indeed they seemed to have done in Sicily. The five New York Dons were stout, corpulent men with massive leontine heads, features on a large scale, fleshy imperial noses, thick mouths, heavy folded cheeks. They had the look of no-nonsense busy men without vanity.’

Don Corleone is already there from the beginning, so you would expect five bosses to be introduced now, but we only get four: Anthony Stracci, Ottilio Cuneo, Emilio Barzini and Philip Tattaglia. What the hell?!?!

There is also another passage here pointing to five families besides the Corleones. It reads: ‘Of the five New York Families opposing the Corleones, Stracci was the least powerful but the most well disposed.’ That proves it: there is a family missing here.

Yes, in real-life there are five New York Families (Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese) and not six, but these passages in the novel make it very clear that the Corleone Empire is NOT considered as one of the five. Why did Puzo create this unclear situation? This seems rather sloppy for a capable writer like him.

Francis Ford Coppola could have corrected this mistake in the movie, but he didn’t. The movie also includes a few of these references. Like Tom Hagen proclaiming: “All the five families would come after you, Sonny.…” Or Don Vito saying: “I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the Five Families.”

I have searched for an answer, but found nothing. We, lovers of popular culture, will have to live forever with this frustrating, inconsequent, mess-up. Good luck with that.