I am absolutely delighted to share my thoughts on The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. This book surprised me as the title made me think it would be more of a mystery read, while there was a mysterious element to it, it was actually a historical fiction and I loved it.
Before I get too carried away, let me share the synopsis with you…
Hundred-year-old Stella Fortuna sits alone in her house in Wethersfield, Connecticut, crocheting blankets and angrily ignoring her sister, Tina, who lives across the street. The sisters, once the best of friends, have not spoken for thirty years, not since The Accident—the eighth time Stella nearly died.
But what unspeakable betrayal made Stella turn on her sister? Born in a mountaintop village in southern Italy, Stella and Tina had grown up in abject poverty in the years between the two World Wars, abandoned by their father, who had left to seek his fortune in L’America, and forced to drop out of school after first grade to work in the olive groves. Tough, vivacious, and fiercely loyal, the inseparable sisters were foils for each other, Stella precocious and charismatic, Tina obedient and hard-working. But as Stella suffered ever more serious near-death experiences—beginning in their childhood with the time she was burned by frying oil (“the eggplant attack”)—the girls’ beloved mother, Assunta, became convinced her eldest daughter was cursed, a victim of the Evil Eye or a malevolent ghost. But what was really trying to kill Stella Fortuna, eight (or maybe seven) different times?
Now, after a century of trauma, Stella has turned on those who she once thought loved her most. It is up to the family historian to unravel the life and deaths of Stella Fortuna and to connect the inexplicable dots in her dramatic story—to suggest, finally, a redemption of the battle-scarred and misunderstood woman known now to the family as “crazy Stella.”
The synopsis does a brilliant job of explaining what to expect from this wonderful book.
As I began reading I was reminded of another book I read many years ago, that was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in that book there was a repetition of family names being handed down to the next generation. While The Seven or Eight Deaths also has a similar naming tradition it was not as confusing as Marquez’s.
The author depicts a very simple life for the Fortuna family in the small remote Italian village that they call home. It is simple but also a very hard life. The main focus is on Stella and her sister Tina and their parents Assunta and Antonio. It is the females of this story that are the strength and I think their hard lifestyle in Italy has helped them in their strength and determination as the book proceeds further with their story.
Antonio is a father who has not spent a lot of time with the family, he goes off to work and eventually ends up in America where he then sends for the rest of his family to join him. I have to say I really did not like him, he is very much a “do as I say because I am your husband” character. It is typical of the traditional family dynamic of the time. As much as it really grated it was right for the story.
Because the author has used a time span of 100 hundred years there is a lot of world history things that could have been included, the author has picked out a couple of key events and this makes the reading very fluid and relevant to the females in the Fortuna family. I very much enjoyed their arrival in America and witnessing Stella and Tina’s reaction to the American way of life, the social differences made me smile. But life as a recently arrived immigrant is not all smiles and roses and the women have to work hard.
The author has a wonderful style of writing that made it so easy for me to disappear into the pages for 2-3 hours at a time. She showed the differences in the way of life for the family from a cultural as well as a social point of view. I liked how she touched on traditional local dishes that Assunta would have made, then being Americanised. It is little touches like this that appealed to me, it is a way of seeing the subtle changes and adaptations in culture and society.
The Seven or Eight deaths of Stella are explained throughout the story, and also the disagreements that gradually cause a rift between the sisters. The deaths part of the story does have a slight spookiness to it and this is why it is also listed in horror/occult and I, I do hope that does not put people off because for me this was just a small part of a bigger story. As I mentioned earlier, the women of the story are strong and determined and so I can see why the rift had been caused. The women are fabulously developed characters that grow and evolve with the story, they are joined at intervals by various other relatives and friends.
This is an emotional story but also one that I did not feel emotional about as I was reading it. This sounds a rather odd thing to say, as yes the story is emotional but the characters have a very firm and solid outlook on life. They do show emotion as such but as they are such strong characters they are more able to hold it in, although there are times when the dam breaks for them.
This is such a wonderful story that is set through the 1900’s, it gives a century of family history and at times has a literary fiction style to it. I found it to be very addictive reading and when I wasn’t reading I did often find myself thinking about it.
This is one that I think other historical fiction readers would really enjoy. It is heartwarming and also heartbreaking but without being overly emotional and does have some hard reading moments, it is about family and new starts and also tipping a nod to the past. I would definitely recommend.
Many thanks for reading my post, a like or share is always appreciated 🙂 xx