Beneath a Scarlet Skyby Mark T. Sullivan Published 01 May 2017
|Beneath a Scarlet Sky.pdf|
|Publisher||Lake Union Publishing|
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Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, 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.
"Beneath a Scarlet Sky" Reviews
My 14 year old is a military history buff, and I'm pretty sure he will enjoy this simple work of historical fiction set in WWII Italy. Me? Not so much.
GOOD STUFF: I learned that groups of Italians - loosely organized by priests and archbishops of the Catholic church - were active in smuggling Jewish refugees over the Alps and into Switzerland to keep them out of the Nazi reach. Getting a feel for the timeline of the German presence in Italy and how it was marked by milestones of Allied advancement was also pretty interesting. Jewish and political prisoners were treated horrifically in Italy, something not commonly written about - disturbing, but we need to know these things.
SQUIRRELY STUFF: The incessant series of coincidences that put the protagonist - a REAL PERSON named Pino Lella - in probably 40 or more highly unlikely situations sucked nearly all credibility from the story. In the real world of the early 1940s, Mr. Lella was a 17 year old who had been sent with his younger brother up into the mountains to escape the bombings that had begun in Milan. The teenagers stayed at a Catholic boys' school where the priest began to harness the strength and alpine knowledge of 17 year old Pino to fill a role as capable mountain guide for Jews trying to escape persecution.
While this section of the book was compelling, the author popped in his first bits of far-fetched "small world" run ins that ultimately doomed my reading experience. I kept envisioning a young Tom Hanks busting out of his leg braces at a full gallop and quoting Mama. "Stupid is as stupid does" - but in Italian - when he was randomly asked to act as translator for Mussolini. I'm not the first person to see the unfortunate Forrest Gump parallel, but because I regarded the book as being either geared for a Young Adult audience - or that population of adults who read maybe just one book a year - I initially let the incessant coincidences slide.
Sadly, when young Pino enlists with the Nazis (to avoid being drafted and being sent to the Russian front), he bumped into major players with the gestapo, served water to half starved Jews, was the sole eye witness to a bombing’s perpetrator, and more unlikely Gumpish happenings. He - a teenager who’d only recently learned to drive - expertly chauffered his officer's car to engage in a dog fight with a dive bombing fighter plane, intent on its repeated overhead assassination attempts of the car’s inhabitants. James Bond could not have done a better job. All of these and other farfetched incidents snowballed into one big hunk of questionability for me.
There is another WWII era book out called Mischling where the fictional twin sisters, just like Pino and Forrest, end up witnessing every major event to have happened in that particular site over a period of years. Do you remember those long horizontal posters from elementary school science class where every single known dinosaur and shark and invertebrate and fish and tree was illustrated into a single setting? Yes, those are called dioramas, and that is precisely what this book felt like... an unrealistic conglomerate of events.
The writing style, vocabulary, and format are fifth grade level - not a bad thing for the general masses of reluctant readers out there - and because of that seemingly "targeted" audience, I further forgave the ridiculousness.
UNFORTUNATE STUFF: The flip side to assigning dozens and dozens of unlikely outcomes to one single real world person made me doubt exactly what role Pino Lella played. What a shame that a book that probably promised to honor the sacrifices made by Mr. Lella now have me (a cynic) questioning exactly what he did do in the war. I mean, he DID enlist with the Nazis. Part of me wondered if the outlandish acts of heroism and espionage and coincidence were mere whoppers that some Italian dude concocted years later so nobody would think ill of him for signing up with the Axes forced. I'm NOT accusing - but the way this story was written sure did have me wondering - and that stink is on the author, not Mr. Lella.
The names and roles and timeframes for the German officers, priests, and other real people are (I've read) pretty badly botched too, but it is my understanding that the publisher originally claimed that this "Based on Actual Events" book was 90% perfectly accurate. As armchair historians started digging up background info - because hey! it IS a compelling story! - the controversy of how much exaggeration and creative license and blarney was employed grew.
Some of this is familiar turf for avid readers. A Million Little Pieces was a beautifully written "memoir" by James Frey that turned out to be more invention than biography. Poor Dave Eggers got hoodwinked by the wolf in sheep's clothing that was the man in Zeitoun. In those instances, however, it was the author Frey intentionally deceiving us and then Zeitoun deceiving author Eggers. Here, I've no idea what to believe or disbelieve, and it is Pino Lella who gets questioned because of this writer Sullivan.
In sum, had Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox showed up (speaking Italian), I would not have been surprised.
Great story. Poor writing.
3 neutral stars
The book synopsis sums up the first 35% of the novel really well. Therefore, I am not going to summarize the plot here. I didn't hate Beneath a Scarlet Sky, but I didn't really love this book either. I did love the cover, the title, and that this was a WWII era book situated in Italy. Most of the books I read are heavy on the France/Poland narrative and I appreciated the different angle. I will say that it was refreshing to have a male protagonist be shown in a very different light. I have read a few reviews that speculate that Mark T. Sullivan was showcasing the young Pino as somewhat of a superhero.
On the contrary, I was stunned by how incredibly naive Pino was. About rule under Mussolini, the rounding up of the Jewish people, and the oversimplification of the Catholic Church not wanting to take a stand against Adolf Hitler. But the biggest problem I had and where Sullivan really lost me was Pino's involvement as a spy. That is where I begin to question the validity of the story that was being retold on the pages. Maybe I am just not as trusting,but there is something whispering in my ear to be cautious about this tale.
I know, I know, Beneath a Scarlet Sky is rumoured to be a major film starring Tom Holland and the interviews I read from many online websites, including the UK times. The times claim it the "forgotten true story of a real hero who saved Jewish people " and I am sure many people will flock to the cinema and be bowled over by a man who fought against the Nazi occupiers, but I just am not won over by this book. I feel it is in the same category as "All the Light We Cannot See which also received glowing reviews, but was another "ok, I am still the same person after reading this book." Am I becoming more infused with cynicism as I get older?
All in all, it didn't work for me, but it just might for someone else.
The story of Pino Lella is amazing. The writing of Mark Sullivan is dreadful. It reads like it was written by a sixth grader, full of cliches and bad metaphors. I brought this book on vacation and was so excited to read it based on the description on the back cover. What a disappointment.
3.5 stars. Beneath a Scarlet Sky gets high marks for telling an interesting story about Italy at the end of WWII. It gets middling marks from me for the delivery. Author Mark T. Sullivan has written a fictionalized account of Pino Selle's Iife during the last year of WWII. Pino was an 18 year old Italian boy compelled to enlist as a German soldier by his family in occupied Milan -- this is how they thought he could stay safe. He ended up working as a driver for a high ranking Nazi officer stationed in Milan -- and also working as a spy for the Italian resistance. Sullivan had the benefit of first hand interviews with 89 year old Pino. As I say, it's a fascinating story. But the delivery could have been better. The writing is very simple and straightforward, which is not necessarily a flaw but may be off putting to some readers. To me, the book did suffer from being longer than necessary. I also felt that Sullivan paints Pino as unrealistically heroic -- he comes across as larger than life and as having emotions that are much simpler than he likely experienced at the time. Whether you are bothered by the weaknesses in the delivery will likely depend on what you are looking for. Great story but simplistic delivery. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
I know I've been gone, but I'm back now so don't worry I'll be clogging your feeds with my garbage reviews again now. I already started reading my next book.
A semi biographical story about an Italian teenager Pino Lella who is sent to a convent after Allied forces airstrike destroys his home in Milan. At the convent he helps the priest smuggle out Jews to Switzerland who have come there for help. He meets and falls in love with Anna, an older widow. Eventually he is called home and made to join the army for protection. Eventually he uses his position in the army as a driver to one of the most powerful German generals to spy for the Allies.
There are so many positive reviews for this book but I honestly hated it. It was difficult for me to finish this book. I have been busy and not had as much time to read but at the same time this book was part of the reason I haven't read anything in weeks because it was just so boring that I didn't even feel like reading really, it felt like torture reading it. I don't think it was the story itself that was the problem but the execution. It was painfully boring and the author just kept telling and not showing us anything or illustrating things for us. There was no suspense built up and I felt zero attachment to any of the characters, even though they're real people. This has to be one of the hardest books I've forced myself to finish reading just because it felt like there was so much unnecessary detail included and because everything was just told out without really a narrative or story line to help build up my interest. Thank god I'm done with it.
2 1/2 stars. This should be a fascinating story, but, unfortunately, the writing is poor. I would even say it's repetitive, juvenile and boring. It's nowhere near as engaging as I would expect from a book that has a 4.4 average rating over 48,000+ readers.
The strength of Beneath a Scarlet Sky comes from it's exploration of the Italian experience under Mussolini during the Second World War. I know almost nothing about what happened here, despite having read A LOT of books and memoirs set during this time. I've read countless tales about the Germans, Polish, the British and the Americans, so it was extremely refreshing to get a new perspective.
Also, Sullivan interviewed the real Pino Lella - the protagonist of this book - and based much of the story on his tales and memories. It is a fictionalized, much-embellished true story, which makes it even more effective to many, I'm sure.
That being said, the writing really does leave something to be desired. Writing style is not something I comment on too often, but it was obvious to me as soon as I began reading that - at the very least - Beneath a Scarlet Sky could have done with some extra rounds of (heavy) editing.
And I know that the author's starting disclaimer is basically a cute way of saying "Look, some parts are absolute bullshit that I made up to make the story more interesting" but my suspension of disbelief was strained a bit when Pino's life becomes something of a superhero tale. Dramatic event after dramatic event unfolds, and I feel that if a young guy really did do half the things Pino Lella apparently did then he would be as famous as Harry Potter. Not the long-forgotten star of a semi-biographical novel.
The history is interesting.
The story is, on occasion, compelling.
But true, semi-true, maybe true? Yeah, I'm not convinced.
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