Book Review by Dinh.
From the title, The Seven Or Eight Deaths Of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames I was thinking a murder mystery but it was not what I had expected. I had read The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton last year and thought it would be something similar, like a who dunnit murder mystery. I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be an Italian family saga novel.
This was a debut novel for Juliet Grames and what a great start! I loved this book!
This book is definitely worth reading, and here’s why:
The preface got me hooked with “This is the story of how she (Stella) never died.”
We are told that Stella Fortuna will endure bad luck, hardship and seven or eight near deaths, depending how how you count it.
I liked that the story of Stella’s near deaths are told linearly, so you begin with her childhood and end with her old age.
Along the way, we journey with the Fortuna family as they leave Calabria, Italy, and settle in Connecticut, America.
Whilst this novel was mainly about Stella’s near deaths, it also included an Italian immigration experience. We got to know southern Italian culture, specifically Calabrese.
I am impressed with the thoughtfulness of the whole book, from the book cover to how it’s laid out.
What a beautiful book cover! I loved the olives and the leaves on the book cover.
The inside of the book is also very nice. Inside the cover there is a lovely map of Ievoli.
It also has Stella Fortuna’s family tree so you can refer to it. I found it helpful as they all seem to have been named after a mother, father, sister, brother, uncle or aunt!
Grames story telling ability is wonderful. I was pulled in right at the beginning and didn’t want it to end. The book had great descriptions and rich details that made it a great read.
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna was compelling and a page turner. The whole book was easy and enjoyable to read but I liked the first third of the book the most because they were still in Italy.
Grames does a great job in setting the scene with the family dynamic. Grames is insightful on family relationships with all its complexities.
I loved the tone of the book, and how it changed with each near deaths. There’s the mysterious ghost hand that seems make the story a little darker each time.
Moreover, Grames is talented in capturing and contrasting “old world” Italy and new world America. Through the character’s story, I enjoyed how America shaped these Italian people and how they changed and adapted to the American way of life.
One of the things that won me over was the numerous Calabrese proverbs quoted in the novel. These proverbs augment the story’s south Italian culture and traditions and was a nice touch.
Here’s one of my favorite Calabrese proverb:
“I guai da pignata i sapa sulu a cucchjiara cchi c’e vota– the problem inside the pot are known only by the spoon who stirs it. Only a family can know all its own secrets.”
This historical fiction was full of interesting and well developed characters.
The main characters were members of Stella’s immediate family- Antonio Fortuna her father, Assunta Mascaro her mother, Concettina her sister. Stella’s two brothers were mentioned but they had supporting roles. Also Carmelo Maglieri, Stella’s husband was prominent.
My favorite characters were Assunta, and Stella.
- Assunta Mascaro
Assunta was strong in her own way. I felt she was a product of her environment. She married Antonio Fortuna when she was only 14 years old because her dad had died and the women in her family didn’t have any income to support them. They were poor and getting married off was a way of surviving and living.
Assunta suffered many hardships and but she got through them. Her first born baby had died as an infant. Assunta was left alone pregnant when Antonio was drafted in the war. He was gone when she had Mariastella, or Stella. Antonio did not send or give her any money and she had to do what she could to provide for herself and baby Stella.
Assunta was religious and accepted her way of life with her husband. She did her duty as a wife and her children was her source of happiness.
- Stella Fortuna
Stella Fortuna was born in the wrong era, she was more of a modern woman. She knew what she wanted and it wasn’t a husband and kids that was expected with Italian culture. Though she fought tooth and nail, in the end she succumbed and got married and had children.
Stella had great relationship with her mother and her sister Tina but she had a painful relationship with her father Antonio. Stella was head strong, courageous and smart and her father expected her to be subservient and to comply simply because he was the patriarch.
The ending fizzled and was flat for me. I thought the book started off really strong and the last third of the book just got weaker.
The book concluded with the last of Stella’s near deaths. Although I was expecting it, I thought the ending was a bit anti -climatic. I knew it what was coming but it didn’t change how I felt.
My Final Thoughts
I loved The Seven Or Eight Deaths Of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames!
It is a beautifully written family saga that will grab you from the get-go and you will be turning the pages until the end.
This heartrending tale of an Italian family from the village of Ievoli and their journey to America will stay with you long after you finish the book.
I highly recommend you to read this book!