Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna
by Grames, Juliet

Believed cursed in her rugged Italian village, a tough, intelligent teen protects her younger sister when the family emigrates to America just before World War II, enduring challenges that transform her views about survival and independence.

Fictionalized details from the life of the author's own grandmother inspire this tale of an Italian American family and the complicated woman at its heart, Stella Fortuna. Stella's life began in a remote Italian village in the wake of WWI, and is marked by her brushes with death, ranging from severe childhood burns to the head injury in old age that causes a permanent rift with her sister. Near-fatal experiences continue as Stella and her family emigrate to America, where her boorish, abusive father has found work, and where Stella, despite her resistance to marriage and sex, eventually becomes a wife and mother of 10. Stella is a complex, often tragic character, representative of the struggles of women in the past to exert any sort of autonomy over their lives and bodies, and readers who appreciate narratives driven by vivid characterization and family secrets will find much to enjoy here. While the pacing is a bit meandering at times, readers' patience is richly rewarded in this assured debut, which marks Grames as an author to watch. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Her many near-fatal mishaps aren't as deadly as marriage and motherhood for a fiercely independent Italian-American woman in this century-spanning novel. We know from the scene-setting preface that Mariastella Fortuna's "eighth almost-death" led to a mysterious hatred for her formerly beloved younger sister, Tina. Debut author Grames, who based the novel largely on her own family's history, launches it in a stale magic-realist tone that soon gives way to a harder-edged and much more compelling look at women's lives in a patriarchal society. Born in Calabria in 1920, Stella is given the same name as a sister who died in childhood because her father, Antonio, refused to get a doctor. He heads for America three weeks after the second Stella's birth and comes home over the next decade only to impregnate his submissive wife, Assunta, three more times. During those years, young Stella's brushes with death convince her that the ghost of her dead namesake is trying to kill her, but t hat's not as frightening as the conviction of everyone around her that a woman's only value is as a wife and mother. Stella has seen enough during her brutal, domineering father's visits to be sure she never wants to marry. When, after a 10-year absence, Antonio unexpectedly arranges for his family to join him in America in 1939, readers will hope that Stella will find a freer life there. But the expectations for women in their close-knit Italian-American community in Hartford prove to be the same as in Calabria. The pace quickens and the mood darkens in the novel's final third as it enfolds an ever growing cast of relatives-with quick sketches of the character and destiny of each-and Antonio's actions grow increasingly monstrous. The rush of events muddies the narrative focus, and the purpose of the epilogue is equally fuzzy. However, a tender final glimpse of elderly Tina conveys once again the strength and hard-won pride of the Fortuna women. Messily executed, but the author's emotional commitment to her material makes it compelling. Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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