Beneath a Scarlet Sky
By: Mark Sullivan
# of pages: 509
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.
My opinion: My mom recommended this book to me and I’ve been seeing it around Goodreads, especially since it’s been entered in the Best Books Awards competition this year. I’m glad I decided to check it out because it was amazing! WWII is my favorite historic period to read about and this book didn’t disappoint. It’s a fictional novel, but it is based off a true story. A man named Pino Lella really existed and did many of the things in this novel. Apparently there’s some controversy about how much of the novel is true and even whether or not Lella’s non-fiction account is true. When I found myself excited thinking, “I can’t believe this really happened!” I just reminded myself that it probably didn’t happen exactly that way or perhaps didn’t happen to Pino, but maybe he was close to someone else who had that experience. It doesn’t really matter since this is a fictional account and whether it’s based off true events or not, it’s a great story.
The book tells the story of Pino Lella, a teenager in Italy during WWII. His parents first try to protect him from the bombing of Milan by sending him to the mountains, where he begins to help smuggle Jews and other persecuted people over the Alps to safety. Next, his parents decide to protect him by influencing where he was placed in the German military when he turns 18 and is required to serve. His disappointment in working for the people he hates soon changes as he’s recruited to spy for the Italian Resistance.
All of this sounds a little boring, but Pino is a lively character who is easy to like. His boyish antics like pretending to be a race car driver and exploring the mountains mix with adult actions like driving around a high level Nazi and guiding Jews over the treacherous Alps. At times he behaves immaturely, but he’s forced to mature quicker than he should have to by the things he witnesses during the war. The opportunities that he’s given just pop up, but he always makes wise choices by deciding to do what’s right instead of what’s easy and safe.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Even if it’s not usually what you like to read, I still think you should try this book out. The descriptions of the horror of Nazi rule are balanced by the descriptions of kind people who counteracted that horror with goodness.
Why I gave this book 5/5 stars: Great and well written story of a part of WWII, the Italian front, that isn’t typically written about.