The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 May 2019

Member Reviews

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is about a girl named Stella who grew up in a small Italian village and is a story that is told by Stella's granddaughter, starting with Stella's mother and then onto Stella herself and her interactions with her family members. I found the characters really well written; Stella herself a beauty but headstrong and resistant to doing what society expects of her. Her sister Tina is the more naive and caring of the two and their mother Assunta is full of heart and strength, crumbling to tears too often. Stella sees her father almost as a villain in her life and as the story unravels we can see why. I loved the colours and details of Stella's life, which is told without shying away from some strong topics of poverty, incest, rape, abuse and immigration. I  felt sad as the story ended as felt there was more to tell, and I felt that I had grown alongside Stella in some way..  The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna  is a long story but I loved it all and I can't wait to see if Stella's story continues in another book  and what else the author brings us.
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This is the family saga of the Fortuna’s, and follows their lives from poverty in Calabria to the USA. It follows Stella from the birth and death of her older sister (also called Mariastella), her siblings, parents and her life in Connecticut - covering 100 years. I still can’t quite believe that the author managed to fit so much into 460+ pages without it feeling rushed or shoe-horned in, it she did it!

As you can probably guess from the title, Stella’s 7 or 8 deaths feature quite prominently in this, as does her close relationships with her mother and sister. Her father as good as abandons them for the first part of her life, and then demands that his wife and children sell everything and join him in the US where he has been working. Stella hates her controlling, abusive father, but is very much restricted by tradition and religion. So, she lives under his despotic rule. There is quite a bit of abuse - both physical and mental - in this, but what is most admirable is Stella’s unbroken spirit. And she has spirit in spades.

I loved the style in which this was told: a family member researching and telling the story of her relatives, and trying to work out why Stella in her last 30 years refuses to have anything to do with the sister that she loved so much. I had to keep reminding myself that it was in fact fiction. There was a great balance of modern thinking (from the narrator) and the traditions of the older members of the family, complete with curses and spells to avoid the evil eye.

I’ll be honest, I thought I’d made a mistake by choosing this book. I really didn’t think I’d like it. I’m so relieved that I took a chance on this though, because I loved it, and I’d say that it’s well worth a read.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy of this book.
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I'm afraid this book disappointed me for some reasons. The opening was very interesting, intriguing, but I was quickly let down afterwards.
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I’m sure this is written beautifully and sheds light on a unique life lived with all its ups and downs, I just wasn’t in the market for so much misery at this point in time. 
All the best to the author, I hope it does well, it just wasn’t for me.
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A beautifully written cross-generational saga that takes the reader from a remote village in Italy at the turn of the 20th century, to 1940s and 50s America. This is exactly the kind of book I love; sprawling and yet intimate. I couldn’t put it down.
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This felt original, and I found that the plot was well-handled throughout.  The book is well written, and certainly kept my attention.
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I can't remember the last time I was so absorbed in a book, totally immersed in the Fortuna family and in particular Stella Fortuna who is such a living, breathing, bundle of contradictions that I felt I knew her. This is an important book because although it is easy to read it deals with some very difficult concepts and situations.  It is a feminist book that by not preaching, just telling what happened, would surely make anyone want to empower these women and give them choices.  And not just these women, things have changed since Stella was young but not that much.  It is a hugely enjoyable social history of Italian/American families, the impact of the war, childbirth, cooking. and I enjoyed how the story was pegged onto the near-death experiences of Stella who was a legend in her own lifetime.  But don't be fooled, this is searingly honest and spares no details of awful abuse and distress and demonstrates that not all famililies are safe, happy places.
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Really enjoyed reading this and couldn’t put it down. Stella was a great character who you really felt for, very well written novel.
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Stella Fortuna is one of the most original and fascinating characters I've read in a long time. I lived every moment of her life alongside her, in particular, the first half of the story. The portrayal of life for an immigrant in America was executed brilliantly. I found myself thinking about Stella and worrying about her situation when I wasn't reading this book. 
An original and compelling debut. Highly recommend.
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This novel is essentially a family saga taking place over more than a century and concerning four generations of an Italian American family.   Mariastella (known as Stella) is the eldest child of the second generation and the narrative is mostly told from her point of view although the narrator is Stella's granddaughter.   She had an older sister with the same name who died before she was born and over her long life she frequently believes the ghost of the first Stella is jealous of her and trying to kill her.   The first half of the book takes place in a small Calabrian village in Italy while the second half follows the family after their emigration to the United States.   There is much of social historical interest in the book concerning Italian involvement in both the First and Second World Wars; education, poverty, abuse and the role of women in early 20th century Italy (many of the attitudes continuing into the present day part of the story); immigration, language and prejudice.   However I found the book to be over long and had almost lost interest in the main character by the time the book ended.   The first half was much stronger and I felt the author had lost interest also in the second half where the sentences became shorter and quite stilted.
There are no sympathetic men in the book at all, with sexual abuse seeming to be the norm for all the male characters.   Although the women are more sympathetically written, they are all under the power of men throughout the book and so sisterhood becomes a contested solidarity, leading to jealousy and family breakups.
Thanks to the publishers via Net Galley for a complimentary ARC of this book in return for an honest review.
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A fantastic, sweeping tale. Heartbreaking and human with tragic elements. Stella is possibly one of the most engaging characters I have ever come across. I could not put this down!
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Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Every so often I come across what I call a "6 star book" and this book was one of them. It was an utterly perfect and sublime reading experience and is the kind of book that reminds me just why reading is so important to me. Any second of spare time I could scrounge up was spent reading this book and when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about reading it.

The novel takes us from World War One era Calabria through to present day Connecticut and follows the story of the Fortuna family, focusing primarily on Stella Fortuna, the titular heroine. The story has a real sense of time and place and the Calabrian village Stella spends her early years in was captured beautifully. Never have I wanted to visit an impoverished, remote Italian mountain village as I have reading this book.

The story interweaves the events of Stella's numerous near death experiences with the stories of the other members of the Fortuna family. The story is tragic and beautiful and the rather fanciful premise manages to feel perfectly believable and credible. The numerous heart-stopping and tragic moments are delivered in a matter of fact way which makes their impact all the more striking.

As a heroine, Stella is multi-layered and complex and it is impossible not to get genuinely invested in her story. We experience her powerlessness as  opportunities are lost and sometimes  forcibly taken from her. We are spectators to her relationships with her imperfect family and the men she meets along her journey.

The Italian-American experience and the real life social history was captured perfectly and the female relationships in particular were on point.

This is no easy read, don't expect happy endings for everyone but if you appreciate beautifully written, multi-generational family sagas you'd be a fool not to read this one.
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The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is an absorbing, cleverly written story, chronicling the life and near deaths of Stella. She was born in Italy and moved to New York as a young women. She lived her life exactly how she hadn’t wanted to; having little choice in her own destiny. 

The story is funny and sad; shocking and emotional. I thoroughly recommend it to all who love a meaty family saga.
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As rocky as the mountain village where they came from in Italy, the history of the Fortuna family is told with great respect and attention to detail - even when faced with events that are horrifying or shocking, the author tells her tale with authority.
A sedate read, but I think it needs to be to allow the reader to evolve alongside Stella as she grows.
A very interesting story.
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This book is a fairly long read but worth every word the reader invests in it. It's a slow building saga through Stella’s life from birth, to the end, and many ‘almost’ deaths inbetween.

I loved the feeling of a kind of ‘fate’ within its pages, as we learn how a very small change could have meant Stella didn’t survive, but the actual narrative tells how Stella did, somehow, survive the many near-misses - from being trampled by a pig to jumping to her death out of a window. 

Stella and her family live in a poor Italian village, trying to make ends meet with a truly horrible father and many complications. They end up in America, and I hugely enjoyed the story of how they made a life there, but not easily, and the historical elements of the story paint a vivid picture of being an Italian immigrant in 1950's America. There are some really shocking parts which feel dark, to be honest, but the author keeps it as non-graphic as can be, when discussing disturbing topics. However, I still felt a true sense of rage, sadness and frustration at various points in Stella's difficult life - and funnily enough, almost all had the root cause of a man wanting to control her. I found it difficult to read at times, but that only reinforced what a powerful novel this is.

It's hard to sum up exactly why this novel is so enchanting. It might be because of the great characters, vivid setting (The Italian village in the mountains where Stella grew up, and always felt like home to her, really drew me in as it felt so beautifully described) or perhaps the feeling of foreboding in knowing, as the reader, that danger to Stella seems to be lurking in even the most unexpected places.  Either way, I really enjoyed this read and would encourage anyone to give it a go - and stick with it, although it can feel a little slow in parts, the end result when is so worth it!
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A strange book, but nonetheless enjoyable. Eventually we discover it is being written by Stella's grandaughter, and is a book spanning generations, continents and what seems like different worlds - from the days of the first world war in Italy, to the present day in the USA. We explore family relationships, and see how they evolve, or don't evolve. One of the most shocking parts for me was the age of Stella's mum when she was forced into marriage, and how it wasn't seen as wrong that her 12 year old sister in law had a baby. Much of this was uncomfortable reading, but it was fascinating, gripping and highly evocative of the times it passed through. A novel approach, focusing different parts of the story on the times Stella "nearly died". This will stay with me.
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The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a wonderful piece of storytelling. The writing is at times somewhat circuitous, but I loved it.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is an absorbing read primarily about power plays and politics within a family unit and the repercussions one event in childhood can have.

I loved the opening of The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna:

“This is the story of Mariastella Fortuna the second, called Stella, formerly of Ievoli, a mountain village in Calabria, Italy, and later of Connecticut in the United States of America. Her life stretched over more than a century, and during that life she endured much bad luck and hardship. This is the story of how she never died.”

I like how the author gets straight down to the business of her deaths but then takes her time telling exactly how they came about. So, within the first few pages we know exactly what the causes of near death were but not how they occurred.

“eight near-death experiences – or seven depending on how you count them. She would be bludgeoned and concussed, she would asphyxiate, she would haemorrhage, and she would be lobotomised. She would be partially submerged in boiling oil, be split from belly to bowel on two unrelated occasions, and on a different day have her life saved only by a typo. Once she would accidentally commit suicide.”

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is presented as being written in the form of a memoir by one of her relatives as it is told to her by Stella’s sister and closest relative Concettina or Tina as she was latterly known.

The relationship between the two sisters was a tricky one and rang so true that you could almost believe that they were members of your own family because they seemed so real. Growing up Tina witnessed most of the events described within the book as she was at Stella’s side. However, after what family members referred to as ‘the Accident’ Stella hadn’t spoken to her sister for 30 years.

The person compiling the memoir states they were almost grown before they heard Stella’s story because of the nature of family histories.

“Family memory is a tricky thing; we repeat some stories ourselves until we are bored of them, while others inexplicably fall away. Or maybe not inexplicably, maybe some stories, if remembered would fit too uncomfortably into the present family narrative.”

Tina warns her before they start that some of the parts of the story weren’t nice. It becomes clear later that Stella is seen as the mad one in the family since ‘the Accident’ and has had no problem loudly expressing some of her opinions on her near misses and the reasons why they occurred but no one in the family listens as they think she is mad. Now Tina wants to set the record straight.

“I think finally, after all these years, she wanted to set the record straight. She knew better than anyone else, alive or dead, all of the details, because she had been at Stella’s side the whole time. She has the most at stake – the most compelling reason to tell me the whole truth, but also the most compelling reason to hide it.”

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna holds a lot of charm, not least because of the old-world charm that comes across in the descriptions of the mountain village Stella grew up in. For example, Stella Fortuna translates as Lucky Star but “There’s no better way to bring down the Evil Eye than to brag about your good fortune; a name like Stella Fortune was just asking for trouble. And whether or not you believed in the Evil Eye, you have to admit Stella had plenty of trouble.”

Stella was a very well-written character because despite being smart and talented, she was also flawed, and this made her more believable. Oddly her flaws made me like her more.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna was a vibrant read and I loved it.
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I struggled with what rating to give this one, it was a good story, good characters and great writing. However, i felt it was just that little bit too long, 

That being said, I would recommend.
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Don’t be fooled by the whimsical title and fantastical blurb into thinking that this is some sort of supernatural fantasy adventure or similar (although there is a little dash of superstition and spiritual suspicion too): Stella Fortuna is an intimate family narrative of one of the world’s unluckiest women.

Told from the perspective of one of Stella’s descendants, the story maps right back from Stella’s mother’s marriage and life, to the birth of young Stella, and then follows the fortunes of the Fortuna family as they attempt to survive both paternal desertion and return, and eventually, reluctantly, emigrate to America.

This is not a happy tale.

Not only does poor Stella suffer from more than her fair share of potentially fatal escapades, but in the course of the plot she must also face her greatest fears and then continue to live with them and suffer from them for a long, long life.  Her name is one of the cruelest ironies that could have been bestowed upon her!

This immersion into the family life and the problems faced by immigrants, and women, is deeply compelling and I found myself holding my breath as I willed things to turn out well for the strong, suffering Fortuna females.

The ending felt somewhat deflating with its lack of any clear resolution or closure, but at the same time this left us with the indomitable Fortuna spirit,  to add a tiny spark of hope that there is still time for a brighter star to shine.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a family saga, rooted in realism (and some trauma), exploring the problems faced by the displaced and the powerless.


Over the course of her hundred years, the second Stella Fortuna (I will tell you about the first inn a little bit) would survive eight  near-death experiences – or seven – depending   on how you count them.  She would be bludgeoned and concussed, she would asphyxiate, she would hemorrhage, and she would be lobotomized.  She would be partially submerged in boiling oil, be split from belly to bowel on two unrelated occasions, and on a different day have her life saved only be a typo.  Once she would almost accidentally commit suicide.

– Juliet Grames, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog
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"The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna" is a multi-generational saga set in Calabria and America, that touches on themes of resilience, looking for a better life, and the importance of family ties as well as the fight against convention, tradition and expectations in a male dominated world. This is the story of Stella Fortuna, a beautiful, strong-minded and tough girl, who wants to live her life her own way.  Despite her name - which can be translated as "lucky star" - Stella's  life is punctuated by several dangerous incidents, which shape her life forever. 

As she tries to navigate her life, Stella's confidence, happiness and zest for life are chipped away bit by bit. Her abusive father, her husband, and their nine unruly children - the men in her life continue to abuse their power and make her give up one thing she craves the most - her freedom. Another theme of the book is the long-lasting feud between Stella and her sister, Tina.

The story is told by Stella's granddaughter, who plays the role of the omnipotent, all-knowing narrator, as she tries to explain the reasons behind this decades long bad blood between the sisters. What is the reason behind it? And who is responsible for Stella's bad luck and constant near misses - is it the ghost of her dead older sister, jealous of Stella's life as hers was cut short, or is it someone or something else, closer to home?

"The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna" is not only a mouthful of a title. It is also an expansive family saga, beautifully told, despite a rather (in my opinion) hurried second part, I was not a big fan of the supernatural elements either, but I loved the more prosaic, realistic elements of the story, especially the Italian parts of the book. It's not perfect, but it is a riveting read - engrossing, bleak and depressing in places, a  true depiction of the family striving for a better life for themselves.
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