Thursday, February 5, 2015

Stella Mia by Rosanna Chiofalo

"My earliest childhood memory is of a song. I remember lying in my crib and hearing the soothing sounds of a sweet voice singing to me. Many people don't believe that I can have such an early childhood memory, but I know it is real. For my father has told me that my mother sang this song to me from the first time she held me in her arms after I was born up until the day she walked out of my life." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: Rosanna Chiofalo's poignant, beautiully 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.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Once in a while, I stumble across a book so exceptional, I know it will become one of my lifetime favourites. Stella Mia is one such book. The stunning cover alone will draw you in. This book has everything - a fabulous and emotional storyline, unforgettable characters, a beautiful setting, and even a collection of wonderful Italian recipes at the end. From its lush cover to every wonderful page, it kept me spellbound and I could not put it down. 

In Astoria New York, a young woman named Julia discovers the diaries of her mother who abandoned her in childhood. From its pages, she discovers the secrets of her mother, Sarina's, past. 

In Sicily during the 1960's, a young girl named Sarina lives in severe poverty with her parents and siblings. Her father is an extremely violent, abusive man directing most of his physical beatings on her and her mother. Set to work doing laundry and caring for her younger siblings since she was a small child, Sarina dreams of saving her family from her cruel drunkard of a father. She knows she must escape and when she turns seventeen, manages to run off for a nearby resort town named Taormina where she struggles to find work. Near starving, she is taken in by a family of gypsys where she learns to dance and read tarot cards. It is then that she meets and falls in love with a young man.   

What unfolds is an incredibly poignant, multi-faceted love story of two women and their lives. Heartbreaking at times, loving at others, the novel is a roller-coaster ride of emotion, entertainment, and delight. Rich details make it feel as if you are travelling in Sicily. The characters are so real, you can reach out and touch them. They provide the fodder for a fascinating plot that culminates in utter and complete satisfaction. Definitely one of the best books I've ever read - and I read hundreds! Very highly recommended!

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