“The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna” by Juliet Grames is not in the category of books I typically read, but I wanted to move past my usual selections, and this was a great choice. It is the life story of Mariastella Fortuna the Second, called Stella, formerly of a mountain village in Calabria, Italy, and later of Connecticut, in the United States. Her life stretched over more than a century, and during that life, she endured much bad luck and hardship. The book is the first person narrative by one who went in search of the first Mariastella Fortuna, what everyone knew, what was hidden but revealed, and what was a secret waiting to be discovered. She entices readers; “In other words, only a family can know all its own secrets.”
She talks to readers; “but I assure you.” She shares memories; “I remember her saying…” She reflects; “I had that same helpless, dreadful feeling you have when you are sitting next to a coughing person on a bus and you know, you just know, you’ve caught whatever they’ve got.” She analyses; “Later, when I knew the whole story, I would wonder what went through her head during that long moment.” She evaluates “But with thirty years of retrospective wisdom we can see that the Accident ruined lives—is still ruining them.”
Readers find a realistic picture of life throughout the twentieth century including the flu, household accidents, family structure, personal relationships, and societal norms; “Everything was a little weirder in a remote mountain village a hundred years ago.” The Fortunas endure the trauma of war. “The war was a hard time, a literally dark time, a world muted by blackout curtains. Between the curfews and the absent young men, the social gatherings were short, stultified. There was no more meat; there was no more sugar.” They also quickly accumulated to a more modern life in The United States. “Ten years earlier she had never imagined electricity, and now she wasn’t sure how to function without it.”
Of course there is some strange humor amongst the narrative; “Bunions so extreme her big toe turned toward the other four like it was addressing a panel of judges.”
“The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna” It paints a realistic picture of life and death, triumph and tragedy, but most of all women in the twentieth century. Just a caution for some readers; the book depicts realistic and disturbing abuse, both physical and emotional, just as one finds in life. I received a copy of “The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna” from Juliet Grames, HarperCollins Ecco, and Edelweiss. It is the story of a family who survives the ordinary and the extraordinary.