Beneath a Scarlet Sky
by Mark Sullivan
Seventeen-year-old Pino Lella is living happily in Italy and has no intention of becoming involved in the war. But when his home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, he is sent to Casa Alpina, where he joins an underground railroad that helps Jews escape from the Nazis over the Alps. When they learn what he is doing, his parents enlist him in the German army in an attempt to protect him. After Pino is injured in a bombing, however, he is recruited as a personal driver by General Hans Leyers, the left hand of Adolf Hitler. Pino plays the dangerous role of double agent, his courage strengthened by his love for the widow Anna.
This book is based on a true story, but written in such a way that it reads like a fiction. The author does warn readers in the preface that because of lack of available manuscripts, he had to rely in some places solely on Pino’s memory. He also chooses to “fully dramatize” certain events that were told to him in a way that might have been considered lackluster. This makes it unclear at times which details are based on facts and which were introduced into the story in order to make it more exciting. In a way, this detracts from the value of the story, much of that value coming from the fact that it is a true story.
The author’s writing style was quite simple and easy to read, and occasionally his choice of words was a bit juvenile, perhaps intentionally, almost as if he had written it for younger readers. It seems as if the author is trying to write from the perspective of an adolescent. Naturally, this would lead to less mature views and descriptions of events, and I thought it resulted in a slightly less realistic feel. In addition, the simplicity seems to make the story more fast-paced, without lingering on any particular event. However, it also takes away some of the suspense and tension that could otherwise be present.
As Pino is the main character in this book, the character development focuses mostly on him. Throughout the book, the reader can see Pino maturing and growing into his part. In the beginning, he is a carefree boy who loves music and the movies and spends much of his day thinking about and hopelessly chasing after girls. As time passes, the horrors of the war shape him into a courageous young man who risks his life to fight for a cause.
This book left a lot of questions unanswered in regard to some of the characters in the book. Again, a lot of this was because of the lack of resources the author was dealing with. However, it left the story unfinished and the ending was rather unsatisfying, having introduced more mysteries than it ended up solving.
In the whole book, there are perhaps five or six usages of four-letter words, beginning with “d” and “s”, and their variations. In terms of appropriateness, there is a brief kissing scene at the end of chapter 18 and two very short, not very detailed, but very suggestive descriptions at the end of chapter 22 and chapter 25.
I enjoyed Beneath the Sky very much. Although it may not possess the most mature tone, it is a true story that is both compelling and inspiring. If you are a parent who reads to your children, this would make a great read-aloud book. I would also recommend this book for readers of all ages, with some discretion concerning the few questionable scenes mentioned above. This is a forgotten story that should be more widely known, and reading this book will certainly provide you with the knowledge.