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The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: A Novel
by Juliet Grames

Published: 2019-05-07
Hardcover : 464 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 4 members

From Calabria to Connecticut: a sweeping family saga about sisterhood, secrets, Italian immigration, the American dream, and one woman's tenacious fight against her own fate

For Stella Fortuna, death has always been a part of life. Stella’s childhood is full of strange, life-threatening ...

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From Calabria to Connecticut: a sweeping family saga about sisterhood, secrets, Italian immigration, the American dream, and one woman's tenacious fight against her own fate

For Stella Fortuna, death has always been a part of life. Stella’s childhood is full of strange, life-threatening incidents—moments where ordinary situations like cooking eggplant or feeding the pigs inexplicably take lethal turns. Even Stella’s own mother is convinced that her daughter is cursed or haunted.

In her rugged Italian village, Stella is considered an oddity—beautiful and smart, insolent and cold. Stella uses her peculiar toughness to protect her slower, plainer baby sister Tina from life’s harshest realities. But she also provokes the ire of her father Antonio: a man who demands subservience from women and whose greatest gift to his family is his absence.

When the Fortunas emigrate to America on the cusp of World War II, Stella and Tina must come of age side-by-side in a hostile new world with strict expectations for each of them. Soon Stella learns that her survival is worthless without the one thing her family will deny her at any cost: her independence.

In present-day Connecticut, one family member tells this heartrending story, determined to understand the persisting rift between the now-elderly Stella and Tina. A richly told debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a tale of family transgressions as ancient and twisted as the olive branch that could heal them.

“Witty and deeply felt.” —Entertainment Weekly (New and Notable)

“The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna achieves what no sweeping history lesson about American immigrants could: It brings to life a woman that time and history would have ignored.” —Washington Post


Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.



This is the story of Mariastella Fortuna the Second, called Stella, formerly of Ievoli, a mountain village in Calabria, Italy, and lately 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. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1) Do you think that any of Stella’s near-deaths was her own fault? Which one(s), and why? Do you think Stella ever secretly blamed herself for a bad thing that happened to her? What about her family—do you think they ever believed that she had it coming?

2) The longer she is married, the more Assunta struggles with her oath to God that she will obey her husband. What individual events reshape her attitude, and how? Do you think she makes mistakes about when she should be obedient and when she should push back, or do you think in her shoes you would make the same choices?

3) Do you—or could you—believe in the Evil Eye? Do you think other people’s jealousy can take form and negatively affect us?

4) Is Stella a religious person? How does her religiosity differ from her mother’s?

5) Does Stella Fortuna’s life have a love story? Why do you think there is never a more traditional romance during the course of her long life? Who does Stella love most? Who loves Stella most?

6) If Antonio Fortuna lived today instead of a century ago, would he be considered a sociopath? Or is he more complicated? Why do you think he does the abusive, grotesque, and things he does? Are they symptoms of a single underlying reason, or are they random acts of an undisciplined and naturally cruel man?

7) When Stella first experiences her nightmare, she distracts her family from what really happened by blaming an imaginary black man for an assault that happened only in her dream. Why do you think she does this? How might the situation have escalated? The Italian-American community has had a reputation for anti-African American racism, which is often represented in media, like Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance or in the episode of The Sopranos entitled “Unidentified Black Males.” Do you think Stella’s instinct to blame a black man is a product of the time in which she lived, or do you think she’d do the same today? Do you think that in America, where successive waves of immigrants from different places make up the majority of the population, racism is more of a problem than it is in more homogenous populations? Do the simultaneous pressures to Americanize and preserve traditions pit groups against each other and create confrontations? Or is the truth the opposite, that the mixing of so many different groups means more open-mindedness and acceptance than the same immigrants would have felt in their home country?

8) Stella knows that her father, although strict, would not want to be identified as one of the “old world” un-Americanized Italians in Hartford, and Stella uses this knowledge to convince him to let the sisters cut their hair short. In your opinion, do the Fortunas Americanize, or do they ghettoize themselves among other Italians? Which of the family members do you imagine felt more of a moral imperative to modernize or preserve traditions? Have you observed similar tensions of identity among immigrant groups you may be a part of?

9) Is Carmelo Maglieri a good man?

10) After her Accident, when Stella turns on Tina, what do you think Tina thinks? Do you think she is baffled and heartbroken, or do you think on some level she feels guilty over things that have happened between the sisters over the last sixty-plus years?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Sweeping tale chronicling the lives of an Italian immigrant family"by Jodie B. (see profile) 12/26/20

3.5 Stars. Sweeping & epic in scope, this is a fascinating read chronicling the experiences of an Italian immigrant family. I enjoyed this glimpse at what it may have been like for some of my own Italian... (read more)

by Marla T. (see profile) 04/02/20

  "Although I read almost half, I was unable to finish it."by Gail R. (see profile) 10/27/19

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, Juliet Grames, author; Lisa Flanagan, narrator
I did not finish this book. It is rare for me to give up on a book, however, when I began dreadin
... (read more)

  "the 7 or 8 deaths of stella fortuna"by Carolyn R. (see profile) 06/29/19

this is not a bad story == I didn't connect with the characters all that well, so for me I don't see it as a 4-5 star book. But not a bad read.
a bit slow for a book club recommendation,
... (read more)

  "GREAT DEBUT"by Elizabeth P. (see profile) 05/07/19

Stella was the second child of Assunta and Antonio Fortuna and the second Stella because the first Mariastella died from influenza when she was an infant.

Assunta had a difficult life

... (read more)

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