Sunday, January 4, 2015

Stella Mia by Rosanna Chiofalo

Stella Mia is a novel written as a memoirs.  All in the present tense, the past and the distant past events recounted in the book enjoy equal immediacy.  A grown U.S. American daughter tells her version of the events surrounding the departure of her Italian mother back to Italy.  When she discovers her mother's diary, the daughter and the reader discover the mother's version of events.

In Astoria, New York, first, second and third generation Italian-Americans make up many of the characters in this story.  The other characters are Sicilian and Calabrian.  The events recounted occur in America and in Italy, in the near past and in the distant past.  This book is so-called women's fiction, which I think is a rather insulting category name.  So I will describe this in more traditional terms:  a family drama.

The mother's childhood in Italy is an excruciating story to read.  Physical and psychological abuse takes a toll on the woman not just in the past, but throughout her whole life.  It is a relief to read of the happiness she finds, here and there, in her life.  But the overall feeling is that she is doomed from the start to suffer. 

The story takes on the feel of a family saga when the story of the past takes over.  Our visits to Astoria, New York, with the grown daughter are fleeting.  I think I enjoyed the last part of the story the best, when the grown daughter meets her aged mother in Sicily, and learns the rest of the story directly from her mother.  There is, of course, a heartwarming ending.

I'm a bit older than the 42-year-old protagonist, Julia, but I still think she is a childish woman.  Her reactions to what she learns about her mother feel like the reactions of a child, not of a grown woman.  Perhaps that is the case these days:  the perpetual adolescents of America?  I like to think that her experience in this book will make her a real grown up woman.

There are recipes at the end of the book, and a Question & Answer section with the author.  Reading clubs are provided questions to accompany Stella Mia.  The reader is told about the author's other books, and we learn that some of the characters in Stella Mia appear in the other books.

From the book's description (spoilers):
Rosanna Chiofalo's poignant, beautifully written new novel evokes the stunning scenery of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands and tells of mothers and daughters, love and sacrifice--and the choices that resound across continents and through generations.

Julia Parlatone doesn't have much to remember her Italian mother by.  A grapevine that Sarina planted still flourishes in the backyard of Julia's childhood home in Astoria, Queens.  And there's a song, "Stella Mia," she recalls her mother singing--my star, my star, you are the most beautiful star--until the day she left three-year-old Julia behind and returned to Italy for good.

Now a happily married school teacher, Julia tries not to dwell on a past she can't change or on a mother who chose to leave.  But in an old trunk in the family basement, she discovers items that belonged to her mother--a song book, Tarot cards, a Sicilian folk costume--and a diary.

Sarina writes unflinchingly of her harsh childhood and of a first, passionate love affair; of blissful months spent living in the enchanting coastal resort town of Taormina and the unspoiled Aeolian Islands north of Sicily as well as the reasons she came to New York.  By the diary's end, Julia knows she must track down her mother in Italy and piece together the rest of the complex, bittersweet truth--a journey that, for better or worse, will change her own life forever.

The author has two other books that might interest Italophiles:  Carissima and Bella Fortuna.

From the book's description:

From Rosanna Chiofalo comes a sumptuous new novel that sweeps readers from the Italian-American enclave of Astoria, New York, to the stunning vistas of Rome, and introduces two very different women--in a story of friendship, love, and destiny. . .

In college, Pia Santore dreamed of going to New York and taking the Big Apple by storm with her younger sister Erica. Instead, Pia has arrived in Astoria, Queens, with a prestigious journalism internship at a celebrity magazine. . .and without Erica. Though the neighborhood has an abundance of appeal--including the delectable confections sold at her Aunt Antoniella's bakery--the pain of losing Erica a few years ago still feels fresh.

Pia's arrival coincides with an unexpected sighting. Italian movie icon Francesca Donata is rumored to be staying nearby, every bit as voluptuous and divaesque as in her heyday. With the help of a handsome local artist with ties to Francesca's family, Pia convinces the legend to grant her a series of interviews--even traveling to her house in Rome. In the eternal city, Pia begins to unearth the truth behind the star's fabled romances and tangled past. And here too, where beauty and history mingle in every breathtaking view, and hope shimmers in the Trevi fountain and on the Spanish Steps, Pia gradually learns how to love and when to let go. For when in Rome, you may find your carissima--your dearest one--and you may even find yourself. . .

From the book's description:

In this warm, enchanting debut novel, Rosanna Chiofalo evokes the extraordinary beauty of Venice, the charm of a close-knit New York neighborhood, and the joys of friendship, family, and surprising second chances. . .

Valentina DeLuca has made hundreds of brides' dreams come true. At Sposa Rosa, the Astoria, New York, boutique where she, her sisters, and their mother design and sew couture knock-off gowns, she can find the perfect style for even the most demanding customer. Now, it's her turn. Valentina has loved Michael Carello ever since he rescued her from a cranky shopkeeper when she was ten years old. He's handsome, chivalrous, and loyal. And in a few weeks, she's going to marry him--in Venice.

But just when she thinks everything is falling into place, Valentina is forced to re-examine her life to see what truly makes her happy. And as she soon learns, in a place as magical as Venice, what seems like misfortune can turn out to be anything but, although who knows what may be waiting around the next corner? The chance to enjoy a moonlit gondola ride, to sip Prosecco in St. Mark's Square, to eat mouthwatering gelato, to put aside "sensible" for once and see where the warm Italian breezes guide her as she visits all the sights she's dreamed of: The Doge's Palace, Il Rialto, the little islands of Murano and Burano. And maybe, along the way, to discover that bella fortuna--good luck--isn't what you're given, but what you make.

Here are direct links to the author's three books, in both paperback and e-book, at

Please visit the author's website.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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