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Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel Paperback – May 1, 2017
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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.
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A 2017 Goodreads Top 20 Most-Read Book
A Goodreads Best Book of the Month
“Exciting…taut thriller…Beneath a Scarlet Sky tells the true story of one young Italian’s efforts to thwart the Nazis.” ―Shelf Awareness
“Meticulous research highlights this World War II novel of a youth growing into manhood…a captivating read…” ―RT Book Reviews
“An incredible story, beautifully written, and a fine and noble book.” ―James Patterson, New York Times bestselling author
“Sprawling, stirring, like the richest of stories, and played out on a canvas of heroism and tragedy, Beneath a Scarlet Sky is like one of those iconic World War II black and white photos: a face of hope and tears, the story of a small life that ended up mattering in a big way.” ―Andrew Gross, New York Times bestselling author of The One Man
“Action, adventure, love, war, and an epic hero―all set against the backdrop of one of history's darkest moment―Mark Sullivan's Beneath a Scarlet Sky has everything one can ask for in an exceptional World War II novel.” ―Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of Playing with Fire
“This is full-force Mark Sullivan―muscular, soulful prose evincing an artist’s touch and a journalist’s eye. Beneath a Scarlet Sky conjures an era with a magician’s ease, weaving the rich tapestry of a wartime epic. World War II Italy has never been more alive to me.” ―Gregg Hurwitz, New York Times bestselling author of The Nowhere Man
“Beneath a Scarlet Sky has everything―heroism, courage, terror, true love, revenge, compassion in the face of the worst human evils. Sullivan shows us war as it really is, with all its complexities, conflicting loyalties, and unresolved questions, but most of all, he brings us the extraordinary figure of Pino Lella, whose determination to live con smania―with passion―saved him.” ―Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Suspicion and The Switch
About the Author
Mark Sullivan is the acclaimed author of eighteen novels, including the #1 New York Times bestselling Private series, which he writes with James Patterson. Mark has received numerous awards for his writing, including the WHSmith Fresh Talent Award, and his works have been named a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. He grew up in Medfield, Massachusetts, and graduated from Hamilton College with a BA in English before working as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. Upon his return to the United States, he earned a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and began a career in investigative journalism. An avid skier and adventurer, he lives with his wife in Bozeman, Montana, where he remains grateful for the miracle of every moment.
- Publisher : Lake Union Publishing; Later Printing edition (May 1, 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 523 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1503943372
- ISBN-13 : 978-1503943377
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on January 28, 2021
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Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a historical fiction in the sense that the books of Jeff and Michael Shaara are. The story is true, it is just that the author has to assume certain points because there is no definitive documentation or source to confirm or deny such points.
Pino Lella is a teenage boy caught up in the grips of World War II in Italy. He wants nothing to do with the war. His interests lie in fun, girls, food, and other typical teenage pursuits. Soon, he will be swept up in the war in ways he could never possibly imagine. It begins with helping a priest ferry Jews to the Swiss border in a form of an underground railroad. His parent enlists him in the Nazi army to keep him safe. It is a job that does construction, guaranteeing he will never have to go to the front line. He suffers an injury, and while on leave he has a chance encounter in his hometown with a high-ranking German officer. This encounter leads to Pino becoming his driver and a spy for the resistance. He will see things that will alter his life forever and his life will be in constant danger from one moment to the next. Along the way, he meets the love of his life that gives him hope and something to hold on to.
I would love to say more about this book, but I cannot because I will give away the best parts, and that would not be fair to you. This is one of those rare books that will stick with me for a very long time. There were parts that made me laugh, I did cry at parts, and there is even one part that had me want to hurl my Kindle across the room, but I held on because I had to see what happened after that. This is a coming-of-age tale unlike any other I have read.
I give this book 5 very enthusiastic bookmarks out of 5!!! It is easily the best book I have read this year, and I highly encourage you to get your hands on this one!
In 1944 the hero of this tale was on the brink of manhood, ready to leave school & get on w/his life when the German army finally invaded his home town & their lives, their law & order, their ruler Il Duce & everyone's dreams & hopes came to a standstill.
Caught between the proverbial rock & hard place, ordinary working Milanese & their children were waiting the stalled Allied advance north from Sicily as told over forbidden wirelesses via the BBC. They were also learning how to survive when Nazis & their attending Wermacht Army rolled in & co-opted all living places, food & supplies. Along with all the dramas in hotels & apartments with mistresses & maids, parents & siblings there were the ever-present spies & collaborators.
This is a novel recounting the truly remembered adventures & feelings of teenager Pino Lella as told by the 90+ year-old survivor of those last 2 crazy years of The War when he was young, healthy, a brilliant skier & mountain climber who then had to enlist only to get wounded on his first foray & while on medical leave Fate chose him to become a German general's driver in a world gone mad as the Allies pounded their way north forcing the Germans into a destructive retreat.
This was an all-round rousing read: held my breath a lot; chuckled some & wept up a storm. I have a feeling this will be Mark Sullivan's best-remembered tale cuz he brings Pino Lella to life in a poetic, heroic fashion; a lad in love w/music, cars & girls who gets to hear the most sorrowful of dirges & the most uplifting of arias; he falls in love w/a fleeting stranger & then starts mid-winter mountain climbing & skiing to take city Jews to freedom, & the music follows him there too. He learns to drive his car mechanic friend's loaner Italian autos; his heart breaks as he watches his family & friends struggle & his city crumble & his life tumble into a pit of despair.
The real adventure is that in his travels with his general Fate is giving him all the information he needs to pass on via his uncle to Partisans up in the mountains who harass & confound the invaders at the end of their tether, resources & reign.
On these travels all over northern Italy Pino bears witness to hidden tunnels filled with a host of grey ghost slaves preparing underground factories, munitions dumps & wonders for which he has no names, all of which he will pass on once back in Milan. All one breathless blink from discovery.
It was hard enough being in the company of a German general who praised his work, his mastery of the automobile, who trusted his translations of Italian into French it was, however, far worse watching his compatriots scrabble to survive, always endangered & his lifetime friends shunning him as a coward for not picking up a weapon.
This young man must have burned out his adrenal glands well B4 he was 19 while guiding Italian Jews over the Alps to freedom & then still a year-and-a-half B4 VE Day go on, never sleeping regularly, the emotional roller-coaster never stopping: finding courage, seduced by excitement, warned by memories of horrific slaughters... & then he meets the maid to his general's mistress & that first love becomes his sacred oasis of music & joy & sensuality as the pace of his general's inspections as the Allies & Germans battle over his homeland demolishing untold castles on hills, ancient cities & monasteries filled with great art.
In that final Spring of The War a fever overtakes everyone: the sights, sounds, smells, tastes of war fill Pino up as his general orders repeated drives to one particular place on the border along the Brenner Pass into Austria & Pino suspects his general is shipping gold bars out for his escape.
The End of this fine saga reaches its climax amid mis-information & bad timing. All falls B4 Pino's eyes & his heart & spirit are broken when he learns he has been played by both sides: his general & his country.
I'm so glad Sullivan gave us an update as to where everyone we met were by the turn of this century cuz it leaves the reader knowing an eager beaver of a spirit had not worked in vain, had grown immeasurably & gone on to live as ordinary life as anyone who lived thru such times could.
A profoundly validating account of one teenager's Coming of Age in a Time of War.
I was thrilled, entranced, filled with amore & doused with sorrow & all through I could hear the music to Pino Lello's life. This one's a keeper, very well done!
Top reviews from other countries
I hadn't, until I read this book, taken too much interest in the Italian experience of World War II. To my shame, I had assumed that they had pretty much as a nation fallen in with the Nazis. How wrong that thinking is. I read Scarlet Sky whilst on a break in Krakow, Poland - and I learned simultaneously about these countries' experiences under Hitler's control. I learned from both that measured "compliance" can be far more effective than blind and instinctive resistance.
The desperate problem - as we learn in this book - comes at the end of the conflict when euphoria coupled with intense anger and the desire to punish collaborators spills out during the period of anarchy before order is restored. Nobody knows who has actually worked for the enemy and who has risked their lives to defeat the enemy from within. The injustice of the summary executions - Italian on Italian - is for me the most distressing aspect of this book. It is shocking to see how normal people can change to wild blood-thirsty avengers, looking for the blood of anyone who just might have collaborated - and, of course, many of those murdered suspects were innocent.
This story excellently describes the transition of a 17 year-old boy living with his well-off family in Milan from innocent teenager to alpha male in a matter of months. From using his mountaineering skills to help Jews to escape from Italy to finding himself in the presence of Mussolini himself, Pino Lella becomes a true hero - albeit a flawed hero tormented by guilt and traumatised by his experiences.
So well-written, so moving, so shocking, so educating, so thought-provoking. I am so pleased I learned of this man's life. He richly deserves to have his experiences recorded for posterity.
The story itself is one of huge courage against the background of horrific actions by the German forces that had taken over Italy and also by the partisans resisting them. This should have been a brilliant book. Unfortunately, the way it is told lets the story down. There are some longueurs, where the author dwells at too much length on fairly mundane domestic and other happenings. The portrayal of Pino’s thoughts and feelings is simplistic, and in places repetitive. The style smacks of the jejune, like something out of The Boys’ Own Paper.
This is a great pity. Despite the weaknesses of the telling, though, the book is worth reading: Pino was someone whose heroism was never recognised - and for decades he tried to put all these events behind him; and many of us know too little about what life was like in Northern Italy as WW2 drew towards a close.
I loved this i stayed awake until the wee hours of the morning not able to put it down it was sleep that took me away from the most seductive account of events that I have read. Every bit as good as pappillion which was my favorite book of all time and now I have two. I will never forget all the hard work you went into writing this and will be forever a better person for reading this. I feel truly blessed to of shared this story with loved in my heart and a teari thank you Mark Sullivan
It's also worth noting that the only endorsement on the cover of this book comes from James Patterson, who just happens to be one of Mark Sullivan's best buddies, having co-written five novels together.
One of the issues I had with this book is the way it's been publicised as the true story of a forgotten Italian hero. This is clearly a novel as printed on the front cover, it doesn't claim to be a biography. The inner cover even states: ‘Though based on a true story and real characters, this is a work of fiction and of the author's imagination.’ That was an hurdle for me, because I just couldn't decide which parts were true, which parts were half-true, and which parts were totally fabricated to embellish the story - so, in turn, I couldn't make up my mind whether this young man was really the incredible, larger-than-life hero he was made out to be by the author.
There's no doubt that the central character in this tale, Pino Lella actually existed, and evidence indeed suggests that he did play a part in helping Jews to escape from Italy, by leading them on a treacherous journey over the Alps to the safety of Switzerland. And, of course, he should be honoured and admired for voluntarily carrying out such a brave feat. However, I found it difficult to believe in his other ventures, and the heroic acts that followed. We are led to believe that at the age of 18 his mother and father convince him to enlist in the local OT section of the German army - so that he can stay in Italy, and not be later conscripted and sent to the Russian front. When in uniform, he wears a Swastika armband. In no time at all he becomes the personal driver to General Hans Leyers, who was the most senior and most powerful Nazi in Italy during the last two years of WW2. You would think that by holding such power, this general would have on his staff an interpreter, a German officer who could speak fluent Italian. But no, he asks Pino to interpret for him, even though Pino doesn't know much German. Leyers has to therefore speak to Pino in a language they both understand - French! By the way, Pino is based in his own town, but it doesn't seem to bother the General that Private first class Lella will have at least some allegiance to his own local family and friends. Pino accompanies the general to meetings with influential Italian manufacturing leaders, and top Nazi officials - so he gets to eavesdrop on talks about construction sites for German munitions factories etc. Hence his opportunity for becoming a spy. Pino even gets to meet Mussolini on at least a couple of occasions. It also appears that Pino was conveniently present to witness every major event, tragedy or horror that was inflicted on the people of Milan during his time as a German soldier.
What I mustn't forget to mention, is the standard of the writing - I thought it was mediocre at best. For me, many of the sections fell flat, other areas of the narrative were drawn out. In addition, it lacked the tension I was expecting from a story concerning an important period in history which had devastating effects on Italy and it's people. In the book's favour, I did learn something about Italy's participation in WW2, and gleaned facts that were previously unknown to me. I was also fascinated by the 'Aftermath' which appears after the story has come to an end. This section essentially sums up what happened to some of the key characters after the war, and certainly convinced me that as he got older, Pino Lella did indeed become a charismatic figure.
I realise I'm in a small minority when it comes to how I've assessed this novel. All I can add is that I can only give my truthful appraisal of a book, and I always endeavour to be honest during that process.
If you can believe in an 18 year-old fluent in French and English as well as Italian, an expert climber, a skilled mechanic high speed driver and, oh yes, a sp, then this is fo you. Otherwise, stay clear.