The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

Book Review

7 or 8 deaths

Book Description from NetGalley

If Stella Fortuna means ‘lucky star,’ then life must have a funny sense of humour. 

Everybody in the Fortuna family knows the story of how the beautiful, fiercely independent Stella, who refused to learn to cook and who swore she would never marry, has escaped death time and time again. 

From her childhood in Italy, to her adulthood in America, death has seemed to pursue Stella. She has been burned, eviscerated and bludgeoned; she has choked, nearly fallen out of a window, and on one occasion, her life was only saved by a typo.

However, even the best-known stories still have secrets to reveal . . . and even after a century, Stella’s is no exception. 

No woman survives seven or eight deaths without a reason. So, how did she? In a tale which spans nine decades, two continents, and one family’s darkest, deepest-buried truths, the answer awaits. . .

My Thoughts:

This book follows the life of Stella Fortuna from her humble birth in levoli Italy, through childhood, marriage, emigrating across the world to America, motherhood and finally old age.  The whole works!

It is a real roller coaster of emotions, as we hear of all the near death experiences that befall Stella and learn of her ever expanding Italian and Italian/American family. A brilliant story of social history and human character wrapped together.

Stella Fortuna meaning lucky star or maybe for this Stella unlucky as her life isn’t exactly a bed of roses by any means.  We read of all of the accidents and experiences that quiet frankly would have ended it for most people but not Stella.  Each time she survives she picks herself up and carries on but always shaping her character along the way.

I loved the first part of the book.  Beautifully written it gives a marvellously vivid account of life in this small village levoli in southern Italy around the time of WW1.  This early part of the story is mainly about Stella’s mother Assunta.  I loved this character. She is so well described and we see her struggle through so much hardship its hard not to love her.  After Stella is born the focus moves to her and her relationships with first her sister, then men: (suitors, her husband, her father), children and always her relationship with her mother.  This is very much a book about the women in this family.

I’ve struggled to think of how to write the review for this book.  I really enjoyed it, but for me the only reason that stop me from loving it was that it felt a tiny bit too long and that it was for me a sad read.  About 80% of the way into the book I started to find it a little depressing .  Clearly this is a book about the traumatic life of a woman trapped in her culture, time and social class, but most of the book is lifted here and there to make it an easier read it just lacked this for a while around this part of the book. Plus I’m not very good with sad books so that didn’t help.

I did like the way it is brought to us by a later generation of the Fortuna family as she sits talking to her aunt hoping to find out more about Stella.  A family history story told with great effect with an element of trying to solve the puzzle of how Stella ends up across the street from her sister but with no contact.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is however a wonderfully written and beautifully vivid read.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced readers copy.





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