Exploring the Forgotten Front with Mark Sullivan
As you no doubt already know, WWII was a very complex affair and the history we were taught in schools was vague and general at best, only covering the most important dates and events that shaped the world of today. As it happens, people are still studying those six years to this day and uncovering new stories and facts that slowly help us build a more complete and accurate picture of what happened during that time period. When picturing the Second World War, most people think of the Eastern European, African, or Pacific theaters where the Allies and Axis were waging war… however, there were many smaller and more “forgotten” fronts if you will, and Italy was certainly one of them. While it may be the birthing bed of the first fascist movements, its role in the war has been relegated to the background if most history books are to be believed. However, the reality is that they were an important ally for the Germans and played a key role in helping the Axis secure their territory in Europe.
As with any country occupied by oppressive forces and dictators, certain people came out of the smoke and rubble as part of the resistance, taking it upon themselves to join the Allies overseas and destabilize the enemy at home as much as possible. While you wouldn’t think of Italy as being a place with a strong resistance network due to the government’s political inclinations at the time, the fact of the matter is that many people opposed the fascists and the Nazis, ultimately banding together and taking the fight to them. There are many stories to be told about the brave men, women and children who did what they had to do for the cause, and Mark Sullivan brings us one of them in Beneath a Scarlet Sky… that of Pino Lella, who at 17 years of age surpassed himself and demonstrated the kind of courage very few are capable of.
A Real Story Worthy of a Novel
To start off, rest assured that Pino Lella is a very real person, and at the moment during which this is being written he is reportedly living a happy and healthy life, his son even responding to comments on the book through Goodreads. The story contained within this book is very real and completely factual, but it is nevertheless told in the form of an exciting and entertaining narration which presents this as a thrilling WWII action, love and espionage story.
As you might imagine, Lella led the kind of life where one doesn’t need to use their imagination to fill in any gaps or embellish any segments; it was more than eventful enough on its own. In other words, if you’re worried about accuracy or believability I assure you there is no reason to: Mark Sullivan’s talents really shine as he managed to make a biography as captivating as a fictional novel.
The author takes very little time to get started and we’re thrust right into the action some preliminary introductions and world-building. We are constantly in fear for Pino and the people around him, with there nary being a moment of respite and safety to be found. We see how deeply the fascist occupation corrupted Italy in Pino’s eyes, becoming a nest of terror from which all the good and humane was being chased out. We follow his heart-pounding exploits as he joins the resistance to help Jewish refugees escape through the Alps and are even treated to a love story as he falls for a widow, Anna, six years older than him. In this part I have to say that we are treated to some of the most detailed, enthralling and intense mountain-climbing scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in a book; as someone afflicted with vertigo, I won’t soon forget the vivid and lifelike depictions of what it’s like to be hanging from a rope over chasms which, for all intents and purposes, were bottomless.
That’s only the first part of the book though as not long after his parents encourage him to join the German army as a method of staying safe. After sustaining an injury in combat he became a driver for Major General Hans Leyer, who was only second in command to Adolf Hitler himself. Seeing this as a golden opportunity to deal invisible blows to the regime, Pino took it upon himself to become a spy for the Allies. I’ll spare you the spoiling details about the countless trials and tribulations he went through, so I’ll just say that from that moment on the story only increases in pace, as does the level of intensity.
With that being said, I would like to note that Mark Sullivan does take a few moments here and there to slow down and give us some invaluable, first-hand insight as to the inner workings of German High Command, and even a peek into the mind of Benito Mussolini himself. If you’re the kind of person who relishes information on what went on behind the military scenes of WWII, then you’ll find countless little details here and there, bits of information that will work wonders in keeping you hooked.
The Final Verdict
To bring this review to a close, Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is, in my opinion, one of the best books set during WWII in circulation right now. It tells a relatively unknown yet completely true, gripping, emotional and thought-provoking story that sinks its teeth in you and never lets go from the first few pages, taking us on an infernal ride as seen through the eyes of a unique Italian teenager whose wisdom went well beyond his years. It’s the kind of all-encompassing war story that takes us into all kinds of extremes; if you’re interested by World War II and want to witness the extraordinary story of a young man’s cunning and courage, then this is a book you will tremendously enjoy.