Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan was a riveting and gripping novel. I just finished this last night, and couldn’t wait to publish my review in my small corner of the internet.
Set in World War II Italy, in the city of Milan, the story focuses on the young protagonist, Pino Lella. This book was sitting on my Amazon wish-list for quite some time, but what pushed me to read this novel was the fact that it’s based on the authentic experience of Pino Lella and will soon be featured in a film. At first, I thought this would be your “typical” war-time story, love found, love lost, and a few action scenes thrown in for entertainment. But boy, was I wrong!
Not only was this novel exceptionally well written, but the life of Pino Lella and his experience during WW2 was anything but typical. Beginning as a young boy of 17 in the cultured city of Milan, who’s interested in girls and fast cars, his innocence is quickly stripped away at the onset of the war, as the horrors and realities soon begin to touch his world.
For his safety, his parents send him to stay with a family friend, Father Re, a priest who runs a school for boys in the Alps. Unbeknownst to Pino, upon his arrival at the school, he begins intensive physical training under the instruction of Father Re to climb mountains. When the time comes, Father Re tells Pino the real reason behind the need for this training – Pino will be helping Jews across the border to Switzerland, a dangerous climb that requires an experienced and reliable leader.
As Pino helps individuals and families escape the Nazi regime, not only does he learn about the reality of the war, but we see personal development and growth in him as he transitions from boy to man. His thought pattern changed, and his attention that used to be focused on cars and girls is now turned to saving his family, himself, and other deserving people.
As the story continues, Pino returns to Milan, only to be coerced by his parents to enlist in the Nazi party, to remain inconspicuous and safe until the end of the war. As fate would have it, Pino ends up being the personal driver to General Hans Leyers, a high ranking Nazi official, who Pino refers to as Hitler’s left-hand man.
Pino uses this opportunity to spy on the general and reports back to the Allies who are trying to free Europe from the Nazis’ stronghold. While driving Leyers around, Pino witnesses the real horrors of the war, from the trains full of innocent men, women, and children being sent to concentration camps, public massacres, and battles. Pino even had the rare opportunity to meet and speak to Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator. As time passes and Pino spends more time with Leyers, he develops a personal stance against the war and grows into an even stronger man and efficient spy, motivated by the loss of loved ones.
Pino is also motivated by love for a maid named Anna. The two bond over the tragedies of the war, finding comfort in each other. This story, set against one of the world’s darkest periods, moved me in ways that I’ve never been by a novel featuring a male protagonist. Pino Lella’s life and legacy are perfectly captured in Sullivan’s vivid and riveting writing, and I can’t wait to see this story come to life on the big screen.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky is an amazing read that you won’t want to put down until you’re finished.