Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

First Line: In early February 2006, I was forty-seven and at the lowest point of my life.
Pino Lella is a typical seventeen-year-old boy, obsessed with girls, music, girls, movies, girls, food, girls... He wants nothing to do with the Nazis or the Fascists there in his beloved Milan. The night he meets and falls in love with Anna, the bombing of Milan begins. For safety, Pino's parents send him to a monastery high in the Italian Alps where he begins helping the priests take Jewish refugees through treacherous mountain passes to Switzerland.
But then the Nazis begin conscripting Italian men and sending them to fight on the Russian front, an almost certain death sentence. Pino's parents force him back to Milan to enlist with the Germans, hoping it will keep him away from Russia. It works, and an accident proves even more providential to the young boy. Pino becomes the personal driver of Adolph Hitler's right hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich's most mysterious and powerful commanders.
Thus begins the next chapter in Pino's life as he spies for the Allies, keeping what he's doing from everyone, even his little brother who's fighting with the Partisans. Pino becomes witness to the horrors the Nazis inflict upon his country. The only thing that bolsters his resolve is his love for Anna and the life they will share after the war is over.
Mark Sullivan does an amazing job of bringing readers right into the life of Pino Lella, a real man and the incredible things he accomplished during World War II. Pino's voice and behavior at the very beginning when his mind is filled with daydreams of falling in love with the perfect girl made me smile. What a typical teenager! And then, the things this young boy is able to do with scarcely batting an eye. 

For me, the best parts of Beneath a Scarlet Sky involved the action scenes: leading refugees through high, treacherous mountain passes to safety in Switzerland, attacks by thugs thinly disguised as partisans, driving a staff car while being strafed by an Allied plane, running through the streets of Milan in fear for his life after the war is over... Sullivan had me experiencing it all right alongside Pino.

Sullivan also had me meeting so many fascinating people like the Cardinal of Milan, General Leyers, and the priests in that monastery high in the Alps. I really appreciated the fact that the end of the book told us about Pino's life after the war and what happened to many of the other people in the book.

In listening to the audiobook, the narrator's attempts at various female voices did make me smile from time to time, but he never failed to keep me focused on the story. I love learning about unsung heroes, and I think it's wonderful that we can finally get to know Pino Lella, a very atypical teenager in a very atypical time.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Narrated by Will Damron
Brilliance Audio © 2017
Audiobook. 17 hours 43 minutes.
Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Audible.


  1. So many anti-fascist heroes in Italy during WWII. I read Lisa Scottoline's book "Eternal," which is about the Italian holocaust. But it is also about heroes, partisans and how things changed when the Nazis occupied Rome.

    One thing she said is that thousands of Jewish people were saved in Rome, hidden in the Vatican (it was 1,000 rooms!), in convents, monasteries and in people's homes.

    She did good research in Italy and has some short videos at her website.

  2. This sounds absolutely fascinating, Cathy. As Kathy D. points out, there was a lot of anti-Fascist activity during the war, but we don't usually read as much about the Italian Resistance as we do other groups. And it sounds as though Sullivan gets the time, setting, etc. right, which makes it all even better.

    1. I wonder why there hasn't been as much written about the Italian Resistance?

    2. Interestingly, there were many people in the Fascist Party, including Jewish people, but when Mussolini read the anti-Semitic laws in 1938, many became partisans.
      This is in Scottoline's book.
      There is also a book, "The Children's Train" about partisans who after WWII took in children from the South, which had been devastated by Allied bombing. The children were hungry and uneducated. So they were sent to the north and got family kindness, good food and education.

  3. Some of the real heroes of WWII will never get their due, but it's good to see that someone out there is doing the research and telling their stories. This one's going on the TBR.

    1. I'm with you, Sam. I'm so glad there are people out there doing their research and telling these heroes' stories. They need to be known.

  4. Thanks, Cathy--I definitely want to read this one!


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!