Months ago, I read a book called The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. I keep thinking about the story, the themes, the setting, and, most of all, the characters. The book is historical fiction, an immigrant’s tale. It tells Stella’s story from just before her birth and childhood in Calabria, Italy, to her adulthood and old age in Connecticut. Stella is an intelligent and ambitious woman trapped in a culture that doesn’t appreciate those traits in a woman.
I don’t know why I didn’t write a review when I first read the book. I should have, but I guess life was just too hectic at the time. To make up for that, I want to recommend it now. This is a really great book. Stella, her sister Tina, and her mother Assunta are fantastic characters. And they provide a wonderful lens through which to see the past hundred years.
The book isn’t always an easy read. Most of the men in the book are pretty awful, especially by the narrator’s modern standards. There are some graphic depictions of abuse. But they aren’t gratuitous, they are necessary for the story. Even if it makes the reader uncomforatable at times, it’s worth it.
The novel is pretty spoiler-proof. The narrator gives away the ending in the opening. But this book isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey (and don’t worry, she doesn’t use cliches like that in the book). If you’re a reader, put this book on your wish list. If you know a reader, it would make a great gift. I know I’m glad that I got to know Stella Fortuna.