Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Published: 5/1/17 by Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction
Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, the USA Today and #1 Amazon Charts bestseller Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during one of history’s darkest hours.
Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.
In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.
Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share.
Fans of All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, and Unbroken will enjoy this riveting saga of history, suspense, and love.
This is a book I chose for the Historical Fictionathon, and it’s for “Time Traveler’s Wife: Favorite Time Period.”
Trigger warnings: graphic scenes involving death, mention of miscarriage, hints at infertility.
The small luxuries of life are how we survive what the mind can’t fathom.Cigar Trader
I’ve never read a WWII story quite like this one, and that might be because it’s set in Milan. There aren’t a lot of WWII novels that I’ve heard of that takes place in Italy. I think the story is the most interesting part of the novel, hence the reason I read it. I will say that my level of enjoyment would have increased if this was written and labeled as non-fiction. I expect dryness when I enter nonfiction, and this was pretty dry.
After Pino and his family flee to his aunt and uncle’s house, but Pino is not allowed to stay. He is forced to go to Casa Alpina, where he will “study.” Alberto Ascari, race car driver enthusiast, picks him up to take him to Madesimo. Pino is older than the other kids in Casa Alpina, so he is told to climb the Alps every day on a route that Father Re prescribes—Monday through Friday.
Pino is forced to enlist with the Germans. He goes to the Modena train station wearing an Organization Todt uniform. Pino loses his fingers in an explosion, and he is taken to a German field hospital. He spots a Daimler-Benz G4 with its hood up and goes over to help. Turns out, the man inside is Major General Hans Leyers—one of the most powerful Germans in Italy. Only two steps away from the fuhrer. When Pino fixes the car, Leyers wants to speak to him. He has to go to an apartment building where he sees Anna again! Leyers was sleeping around with Dolly Stottlemeyer, and Anna is her maid.
Becoming a driver for Leyers affects Pino’s relationship with his loved ones, especially Mimo, Pino’s brother. Mimo calls him a coward which you will later see how much that actually affects Pino with every choice he makes.
Pino witnesses a lot of tragedies—men and women in boxcars being sent to camps in Poland.
Three little fingers stuck out of a crack on the rear wall of the last cattle car. The fingers seemed to wave at Pino as the train gathered speed. He stared after the train, seeing the fingers in his mind long after he couldn’t see them anymore.
Pino and Leyers watched the Allies destroy the Germans. Pino would listen to the news on the shortwave radio.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t attached to the characters as much as I wanted to be. I was still sad when people started dying. I won’t spoil it, but there was a part that made me gasp… out loud! That never happens.
I couldn’t help but feel bad for Pino considering the amount of trouble he goes through. It’s almost hard to believe that he’s a real man who experienced those life events. He meets Anna, the love of his life, at the Piazza Della Scala. This love is questioned later in the novel, and it’s probably the most heart-breaking part of the book. I couldn’t decide if I respected Pino’s choices involving Anna or if I was upset with him. I think it was a mixture of both.
Anna’s backstory is quite tragic—father died at sea—and her mother blamed her for it. She was blamed for her mother’s miscarriages she’d had after Anna was born.
Pino and Anna’s love story is super sweet. It’s one of my favorite parts of the story. His love for her is unbreakable.
But beyond her lips’ beckoning and her eyes’ bewitching, Pino was seized by something much more compelling and primal, as if Anna were not human but a spirit, a melody, a perfect instrument of love. They caressed, they joined, and in that first ecstasy, Pino felt himself fuse with Anna’s soul as deeply as her body.
I loved that even simple side characters had backstories that felt important to the story. While helping some jews over the Alps, Pino learns about Luigi’s wife, Ruth. They spent twenty-years together, and even though Ruth couldn’t have kids, they never loved each other less. Ruth gets sick one day— “reversed digestive system” —and it poisoned her to death. I felt like I understood Luigi more even though I didn’t need to. It helped me stay immersed in the story.
The hatred for Major General Leyers is real. That’s all I have to say about him. Foul human being.
No, the characters weren’t very developed, but you can still understand their emotions. There’s a lot of internal conflict that happens with Pino, rightfully so. I enjoyed that it wasn’t first person. I think that would have ruined the book entirely.
I didn’t prefer the writing style in this novel. It was very bland and dry as I mentioned before. I know that beautiful writing isn’t necessary for a great story, and in this case that holds true.
I almost put this book down at one point, but I wanted to see it through. I’m happy I finished it, but I don’t think it’s the best historical fiction out there. The story is unique, and it’s cool that the author met Pino in real life, but it ultimately fell just a bit flat for my taste. I do recommend it if you’re interested in reading it but don’t go into it with high expectations.
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