Selection for May at Bookgroup List – I wasn’t going to read it but then I tried the Prologue and it was okay and then (!) it went on sale. So – I found myself both reading and listening with way more interest than anticipated – especially after I knew the background which is in the Preface.
It seems that in real life, a young man named Pino Lella was a spy during WWII in Italy. His career was only two years long (1943-1945) when he was only 17-19 years old. This is a book of historical fiction which adheres, according to the author and his Preface, as closely to the truth as possible – but not entirely.
Beneath a Scarlett Sky
by Mark Sullivan
2017 / 526 pages
read by Will Damron – 17h 43m
rating: 8 / historical fiction
(both read and listened)
The story starts in Milan where Pino is living with his middle or upper-middle class family and is probably a pretty typical young man of 17. The city is being bombed by the Allies and Pino’s very frightened father sends Pino to live with an uncle in the mountains of in the north – at a monastery.
There Pino learns about cars and gets busy helping Jews escape Nazi persecution by escorting them over the mountain passes to Switzerland.
After a couple of close call adventures there he is called back home by parents who are more scared because he will be eligible for the draft and found by the Nazis. They advise him- order him – to enlist with the Germans. He does, but he gets wounded pretty quickly and reassigned as the driver to a very highly placed German general. So begins Lalla’s life as a spy – a 17-year old one.
It’s not written with any particular literary finesse, but the story, and the fact it is based on verified history/reality/memory – is what is so compelling.
This is a work of fiction which, the author says, is closely based on fact. Sullivan lived in Italy to do much of the research, and he interviewed as many people as he could still find alive but the events took place 72 years ago so even the few still living might not remember a lot of things exactly right and it’s impossible to separate the fact from the fiction. Still a great story though and Pino Lella is a deserving hero.
There may be a movie coming – it certainly has action.
Some questions and answers about Lella:
Yes, he’s still living –
More on the history: