Over a hundred years ago, in a mountainside village in Calabria, Italy, from a union between two young people with little to their names, a baby was born. Beautiful and adored by her mother, baby Mariastella Fortuna -known as Stella – seemed promised a happy destiny.
But 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 Stella, once the most beautiful girl in the village of Ievoli, the unconventional, fiercely independent young woman 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.
Oh this book. I’m not even sure where to start…
I had some doubt when I picked it up to start reading, epic family drama not being in my immediate comfort zone – then an hour later I’d devoured multiple chapters only emerging when my alarm went off for work. That’s how it gets you…
The scene setting is intensely immersive, from the small Italian village to the wider sprawl of America, Juliet Grames descriptive prose puts you right at the heart of the story, it opens up around you with breathtakingly beautiful effect.
This gorgeous book lives and breathes within the hearts and sometimes dark souls of its characters, the ever expanding Fortuna family, right at the centre of that sits the much haunted, vividly real, spiky and ahead of her time Stella Fortuna.
Through the months, years and decades Stella faces every kind of adversity and you are with her every single step of the way. She is formed and grown through many inciting events, the heavy weight of a woman’s lot in life in those times is fascinatingly compelling, as you see the impossibly independent Stella bend, sometimes break, but never totally give up.
All around her other beautifully drawn and utterly authentic characters circle, her Mother Assunta and sister Tina being the centre of her world, a world ruled by the selfish patriarch Tony Fortuna. There are many more as the generations expand and as a reader you suck every single one of them into your consciousness where they will remain, this is an insanely powerful novel on every level.
The plotting is a work of complete genius, the phases of Stella’s life focused around each of her almost deaths, often ironically so, there’s not many people whose lives have been saved by a typo. In what seems like no time at all you are at the end, all the deeply held secrets revealed, leaving you at a loss as to what to do next. It’s one of those stories that as an emotional reader you’ll never let go.
The Seven Or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a sprawling epic, an intuitive, nuanced expression of the female condition, of life battles won and lost, it is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read maybe even ever.
I hit every range of feeling possible at various points of reading this so therefore I have absolutely no choice but to highly recommend it. Beautiful, complex, heart breaking and real. Go get it.