Today I have a review of The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames, now available from Ecco Books!
Where to even begin? I’m surprised I don’t see more five star reviews for this perfectly-written compelling story of an Italian immigrant family. The author is also an editor, and it shows in the clear, intentional writing. I read Stella Fortuna’s story over a couple weeks alongside other books, and it’s unusual for me to take that long to read a book. It was easy for me to pick up and hard to put down with each session. At the beginning, there’s a learning curve because there are several characters with similar names, but there’s a family tree included that helps with that.
The story begins with the birth of the first Mariastella Fortuna, born to young parents, Antonio and Assunta in Calabria, Italy. I learned so much about Calabria’s history. After the first Mariastella passes away, another daughter is born, and she is also Mariastella, a second chance for these parents, especially the mother, to protect her. This Stella, however, has several brushes with death over her lifespan; seven or eight incidents, in fact. That’s only part of the story.
The heart of this story is the living, breathing characters and the shifting and evolving family dynamics between them. They move from Italy to America and adjust to a new country together, some better than others. Antonio, the father, is demanding and wants not only his wife, but his daughters, too, to be submissive to his authority.
Both World Wars happen; one while the family lives in Italy, the other while they are living in America. It is deeply, movingly a story of family, and it’s no coincidence the story is told insightfully by a family member. It felt so authentic, so raw and achingly real, that I just knew I would find out it was inspired by fact and the author’s own family once I read the author’s note.
There’s so much to tell you and so much I want to leave out about this epic story. There are more strengths than I could take the time to list here. I have read few books of this caliber, that nail why I read. The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a remarkable, indelible story of sisterhood, family, forgiveness, and strength over any hardship or adversity.
Trigger warning: Abuse, though it is not gratuitous and is not what the book is about.
I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.
About the Book:
In this stunning debut novel, a young woman tells the story behind two elderly sisters’ estrangement, unraveling family secrets stretching back a century and across the Atlantic to early 20th century Italy
For Stella Fortuna, death has always been a part of life. Stella’s childhood is full of strange, life-threatening incidents—moments where ordinary situations like cooking eggplant or feeding the pigs inexplicably take lethal turns. Even Stella’s own mother is convinced that her daughter is cursed or haunted.
In her rugged Italian village, Stella is considered an oddity—beautiful and smart, insolent and cold. Stella uses her peculiar toughness to protect her slower, plainer baby sister Tina from life’s harshest realities. But she also provokes the ire of her father Antonio: a man who demands subservience from women and whose greatest gift to his family is his absence.
When the Fortunas emigrate to America on the cusp of World War II, Stella and Tina must come of age side-by-side in a hostile new world with strict expectations for each of them. Soon Stella learns that her survival is worthless without the one thing her family will deny her at any cost: her independence.
In present-day Connecticut, one family member tells this heartrending story, determined to understand the persisting rift between the now-elderly Stella and Tina. A richly told debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a tale of family transgressions as ancient and twisted as the olive branch that could heal them.
Have you read The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, or is it on your TBR? Happy Reading! ~ Jennifer THR