Title: Beneath A Scarlet Sky
Author: Mark Sullivan
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction
First Publication: 2017
Major Characters: Guiseppe (Pino) Lella, Mimo Lella, Anna Marta, Father Luigi Re, Cardinal Schuster, Hans Leyer, Carleto Beltramini
Setting Place: Milan, Italy during World War II
Theme: Willpower and Fate, Memory and Survival, War
Narrator: Third person
Book Summary: Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
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.
Book Review: Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Based on the true but fictionalized story of Pino Lella, Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is set in Milan, Italy, and its countryside during the final two years of the Second World War. Pino is a young man caught up in his own dreams. While the war ravages all over Europe and took a toll of human lives, the city of Milan was calm and composed though the drumbeats of war were growing louder. One night as he and his younger brother were in a movie theatre, the uneasy calm was shattered when the city was bombed. Pino’s life was completely changed, along with those of his dear ones, including Anna.
“By opening our hearts, revealing our scars, we are made human and flawed and whole.”
As a seventeen year old, he guided Jews over the Alps into Switzerland, working with Father Luigi Re who ran a school for boys in northern Italy. When Pino reached the draftable age of eighteen during the German occupation, he had to enlist in either the Italian Fascist Army or the German Army. His parents made him join the German Army since it had a lower mortality rate (The Italian Army was being sent to fight in Russia). Pino just fell into the job of being the personal driver of Nazi General Hans Leyers after he helped fix his car.
General Leyers was in charge of the Organization Todt (OT) in Italy that built fortifications with slave labor, stole food, and manufactured everything from uniforms to weapons. Pino became a spy for the Allies, reporting on General Leyers’ activities and risking his life again. Fluent in several languages, Pino also acted as an interpreter for the General which gave him more access to important information.
“The earth did not know war, nature would go on no matter what horror one man might inflict on another. Nature didn’t care a bit about men and their need to kill and conquer.”
Author Mark Sullivan crafted an absorbing tale of love, undercover work and love his country that beats inside the heart of Pino Lella. Though a minor player in the story, Pino’s younger brother Mimo is an unforgettable character. Then there is the beautiful and vivacious Anna without whom the story wouldn’t have been what it is. Brimming with details about the World War II from first-hand sources, Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a well-researched story of a young man who dreamed the impossible and made it possible in his own simple ways.
“how can you survive what life throws at you if you cannot laugh and love, and are they not the same thing?”
Pino Lella remained quiet for sixty years about his war experience. Not even his wives knew (Pino was married twice). It was upon learning about Pino that author Mark Sullivan travelled to Italy and interviewed him. Mr. Lella felt shame for having worn the infamous Nazi symbol in order to spy not realizing the sheer courage it took to take on such a task.
Sullivan spent ten years on this book, travelling to Italy and Germany multiple times to verify information. Most people and events in this book are real but due to lack of paperwork and the pass of time, some of the content had to be filled by Sullivan (Sullivan originally wanted this to be a work of nonfiction). Pino led quite an interesting life following the war. He sold luxury cars in Beverly Hills (and was quite adept at driving them too), he became a ski instructor and met James Dean, Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway.
His greatest achievement though, is his role as spy in the war. His bravery is admirable and he is a true hero. Thanks to Mr. Sullivan for bringing his story to the forefront. Its reported that the movie rights of the book have been sold with Tom Holland to play the lead. Will be looking forward to it.