Friday, June 25, 2021

Fiction Review: The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

I just finished listening to a Big Book on audio (yes, audios count for the Big Book Summer Challenge, too, based on the page count in the print book): The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. This novel was published in 2019, and I’d heard rave reviews of it and had been saving it for Big Book Summer!


It's the story of a woman named Stella, who encounters many life-threatening incidents during her childhood in a rural mountain village in Italy and her youth and adult life in the United States. Stella’s father returns from WWI when Stella is very young, though he soon leaves the family again for America. Stella, her mother, and the siblings his father leaves behind after each visit are often left on their own, with no support (he rarely sends money home). It’s a hard life, but they are mostly happy when her father is away, surrounded by loving family, their modest home and garden, and the beautiful Italian countryside. Stella is especially close to her sister, Tina, and protects her. When her father insists the family emigrate and join him in America, it means massive changes for them all. The story is told from the perspective of a family member in Connecticut in the present day, telling the family history by following her grandmother Stella’s life from childhood through adolescence, maturity, marriage, and all the way to old age. Stella’s life is never easy, she accurately refers to her father as a monster, and she seems to never experience a day of happiness.


In case you couldn’t tell from that description, this is a very dark novel. It's well-written and engrossing, with a vivid sense of time and place in its different settings and interesting characters. However, it is also very dark and quite disturbing at times, dealing with some terrible instances of abuse that I found hard to listen to. And I was greatly troubled that much of it goes undiscussed in the family and unpunished (there is finally some odd resolution but not until the damage has been done). It’s a long novel, following multiple generations of the Fortuna family, and while I was interested and engaged in the story, it was just too much darkness for me. I can handle some difficult themes if there is also hope; there was none here, at least not for Stella. All in all, it is an engaging, richly-described family history, covering two countries, a hundred years of history, and multiple generations, though with a tone of despair and some disturbing scenes.

464 pages, Ecco


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.


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Or you can order The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. Congrats on making more progress through the challenge! This sounds like a well-written novel, but it's a shame that it was so dark as to be difficult to get through. I appreciate the thoughtful review!

    1. Thanks! It's always tough to write a review of a book that YOU didn't love but that you can see is well-written. There's just no single definition of good or bad.