The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames is, in many ways, a masterpiece. Grames follows the Fortuna family through decades of their life in old-world Italy into their new life in America.
We follow Stella, the oldest living Fortuna child (who is named after her older sister also named Stella who died as a baby), until her old age.
This book has it’s hard moments, it’s funny moments, it’s nostalgic moments. (I mean, we do cover almost a century.) I found the book hard to read at times – Stella’s feelings of confinement or being trapped were so REAL it made my skin crawl. Grames did a fantastic job of bringing me into even the hardest of Stella’s moments.
This book highlighted what it meant to be a female in the 1950s and even while I was shouting to Stella “No, just say something to them” or “Talk to him, he’ll understand” I was met with the reality she didn’t have that option. I hated that for her and for all women of the time and appreciate how hard they fought so we could live differently.
I was AMAZED Grames’ attention to detail and dedication to filling out the family tree through an entire century. I loved a lot about this book, including little snippets of humor and also the appreciation it gave me for my Italian friends who are always talking about their families and joking “You know, Italian families.” I thought I did know, but Stella brought it to a whole new level.
And yes, Stella does almost die “7 or 8” times in the book. But we’re all glad she lived. I’m trying not to give away any spoilers here, so I’m sticking to the basics!
While my grandparents were not immigrants, they were hard-working/came from nothing (and grew up in the same era as Stella) so I thoroughly enjoyed going back in time and “living in their shoes” for a minute with Stella. It gave me a new appreciation for anyone who has had to start over or literally save pennies to move ahead even an inch.
Thank you, Stella, for sharing your strength with us.
This gem comes out TODAY and is a must-read for anyone who loves layered stories that span decades, family sagas and Italian culture. Happy pub day, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna – your story has added so much to the world.