Mark Sullivan Beneath a Scarlet Sky Review
My wife has been reading about the Holocaust ever since she devoted a major teaching unit to it for her sixth grade classes years ago. She recommended Sullivan’s BENEATH A SCARLET SKY to me and since I am an avid consumer of WWII stories, I pulled it up on our Kindle.
A young Italian boy named Pino Lella is the main character in this semi-historical narrative that covers the last days of WWII’s Italian campaign. Pino was a real historical figure, but Sullivan’s novelistic treatment has espoused a host of negative charges ranging from total fabrication and faulty dating to his easy acceptance of Lella’s accounts without sufficient confirmation from other source
With that caveat what we do have is the story of Pino’s exploits as a savior of Jews and a spy for the resistance and the allies. He begins his career as a 17 year old experienced mountaineer who guides Jews over the Alps to safety in Switzerland. A bit later he returns to his home town of Milan (now ruled by Mussolini and occupied by the Nazis) and is rather quickly and astonishingly taken on as the personal driver by general Hans Leyers, a high ranking Nazi industrial engineer. Leyers has a mistress in Milan and the mistress has a maid named Anna who Pino falls desperately in love with. Pino now sports a Nazi armband but has become a spy who delivers German plans to his Uncle and the Resistance.
Both General Leyers and Lella seem to fall under a single quote from the book that seems to highlight at least one truth. “The game of life, it is always preferable to be a man of the shadows, and even the darkness, if necessary. In this way, you run things, but you are never, ever seen."
The prose is rather rudimentary and sometimes even wooden. There seems little room for real reflection on the human feelings that lie beneath the firestorm of action. I also have no doubt that the narrative and timelines have been tweaked to make Lella’s involvement in major events more dramatic.
Even with these problems I still found it a good historical reminder of the Allies’ slow and bloody progress north in Italy as the war was winding down in France. My recommendation is if you decide to read it, take it more as an adventure novel rather than history. It will always be hard to tell from this distance if Lella and his brother were embroidering their own lives like fisherman whose catch gets bigger with each passing year or if Sullivan just wanted to make his story more appealing and exciting to the potential movies producers who expressed interest in it.
i.e. enjoy but buyer beware.