I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publicist, and unfortunately due to some technological issues, I actually thought I wasn’t going to be able to read it at all. Luckily, when I went to collect another book from NetGalley, I saw that it was available again and I pounced on it. This book was actually a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2017 for best historical fiction so I was even more excited to read it.
“Beneath a Scarlet Sky” by Mark Sullivan is a historical fiction novel which is heavily inspired by true events experienced by a real person in Milan, Italy during World War II. Pino Lella, a happy-go-lucky 17 year old boy, is sent to live in the Alps after his hometown of Milan is bombed by the Allies. Staying in a Catholic boys’ school, he is enlisted by the priest to assist Jewish people escaping Italy via an underground railroad by guiding them through the treacherous winter mountains. However, despite the heroism of his early involvement, when Pino comes of age his parents insist for his safety that he enlists with the German forces. Disgusted by having to swap sides, Pino jumps at the chance to work for Hitler’s “left hand” and spy for the Allies. This new role is fraught with danger and Pino finds himself risking many important relationships, including his blossoming love with the beautiful Anna.
As the saying goes, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”, and this is, without a doubt a good story. I felt haunted by this book for a good week after I read it. I found myself going back to it to reread certain passages trying to find answers and going over and over the events in my mind. Sullivan makes it abundantly clear at the beginning of this book that this book is not intended to be a biography, and that much of the story has been heavily fictionalised, speculated upon and perhaps even embellished. I don’t even care. It’s a fast-paced, exhilarating read and I got much more out of this book set in Italy during the war than I did out of “My Brilliant Friend” set only a short time afterwards.
Probably the biggest criticism some may have of this book is that the writing, while perfectly serviceable, is not especially literary in tone. Some may find it a bit simplistic but I personally found the tone perfectly in keeping with Pino’s youth and naivete. Even though he is involved in very serious and adult issues, ultimately Pino is still a very young man and I think that the writing style actually suits the narrative.
This is an emotionally charged, exciting and intriguing book and if even half of it is true it’s an absolutely incredible story. A solid story that still makes my heart wrench thinking about it.
4 responses to “Beneath a Scarlet Sky”
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Fantastic Review of my father’s story…. I can attest that most of it, certainly the main scenes and characters are true. I grew up hearing the tale mostly from others and not from my father Pino. People like my Uncle Mimmo, Carletto Beltramini, my great Uncle Albert and Aunt Greta and most of all, from my grandfather Michele Lella…. even Alberto Ascari’s son “Tonnino” relayed many scenes of the story to me. Mark and I estimate and much of his research confirmed that approximately 90% of the story is true….Guiding refugee Jews to their safety over the Alps while at Casa Alpina for Don Luigi Re; Getting buried in avalanches; Getting robbed by Partisan Bandits; Narrowly missing a terrorist bombing in Madesimo; Getting wounded in a bombing raid while at the German OT Boot Camp in Modena; Becoming the driver for the Head of OT, General Hans Leyer; Then spying for the Allies via the Resistance and Uncle Albert; Delivering the OSS Radio (hidden in a false bottom compartment of specially constructed Uncle Albert suitcase) and attaching it to the Nazi antennae located below his parent’s apartment; Falling in love with Nazi mistress Dolly’s maid, Anna; Single-handedly arresting “Mon General” and delivering him to the Resistance; Witnessing the indiscriminant executions of innocent accused Nazi collaborator Italians; Witnessing Mussolini’s demise on display in Milan’s Piazzale Lorretto (with US Major Frank Knebel);…And finally, accepting that suicidal mission and delivering “The General” through the treacherous Brenner Pass to the waiting Americans on the Austrian Border. All of this, and much more is true….A tale of epic struggle and courage that is at the very heart of my father’s legacy… and all thanks to Mark Sullivan, for whom without him, the story would never have been told.
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Thanks so much Michael, I’m so glad you enjoyed the review and the book. Thanks so much for visiting my blog – it’s great to get so much insight into the book, so thank you!
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