The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
Blurb: 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.
Cover Review: I don’t love this cover. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t show anything of the story. Overall, a missed opportunity.
Plot: This book was so beautifully written. It’s really the story of a family and the ways relationships determine the course of our lives. I really liked the way the narration revealed little bits of itself ahead of the story. I normally don’t like when narrations break the fourth wall, but it really worked in this one. Each section details one of Stella’s near death experiences. The “deaths” were not what I was expecting, and that really kept me on my toes.
I also loved the slight paranormal element to this story. I’m Italian-American, so I grew up with a lot of the same traditions as Stella. We always had mint around and I wear a Cornic (what Grames calls a cornetto) and mano corno every day to keep the mal’och away. A lot of stories about Italian-Americans focus on organized crime (which does make some appearances in this book, but they’re minor). It was really refreshing to see that representation of my culture in literature.
Characters: This is really a character-driven story and one done in a really great way. Stella has a black cloud over her, possibly even a curse, and she lives in such a way where she tries to own it. She bears physical reminders of her “deaths” and doesn’t take life for granted. Tina, the little sister, doesn’t have her own personality. She’s a creepy little thing and I love it. And Tony. Let’s just not talk about Tony. Honestly, one of the best villians I’ve ever read.
World: We start in a small town in Italy and move to the US in Stella’s early 20’s. The Italian town of Ievoli is just like what my grandparents describe. And I know Connecticut has a large Italain population. The world was very realistic.
Themes: Family dynamics, change versus tradition, female roles, destiny, forgiveness
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Age Rating: [ R ]
TW: Rape, Suicide
Cover: 3/5 ~ Characters: 4/5 ~ Plot: 5/5 ~ Audio: ⅘
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Publisher: Ecco (HarperCollins)