I recommended a book on NPR -- "The Fortunate Pilgrim" by Mario Puzo. If you've ever wondered why there are no good women in "The Godfather", it might surprise you to discover who inspired Don Corleone.
I love this book. It sits up there with "The Leopard" as all-time favorite novels that evoke Italian history and culture -- in this case, a hard-bitten look at the Italian ghetto in Hell's Kitchen in the 30s. In fact, it sets the stage for "The Godfather" and somehow surpasses it with passion and brutality. Maybe because it feels more real.
If you have a favorite literary matriarch, go to the comments section of the NPR piece and let me know who it is. We'll get our matriarchs together and see who rules.