Beneath a Scarlet Skyby Published 01 May 2017
|Beneath a Scarlet Sky.pdf|
|Publisher||Lake Union Publishing|
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
Based on the experiences of Pino Lella, an unsung WWII hero, the events at the heart of this book are incredible and inspiring. Sullivan, though obviously well-meaning, presents them here in what is more or less a bloated, commercialized, color-by-number hagiography.
Somehow present at just about as many significant events during WWII as one can be, Pino deftly overcomes every obstacle in his path. While - again - incredible and inspiring, there's not much in the way of tension or suspense, especially for a book styled as a WWII thriller. The pacing is inconsistent; some horrific, gut-wrenching events are bizarrely skimmed over, while other insignificant ones are unnecessarily drawn out. I suppose all of these things can be forgiven - there are only so many liberties one can take with (what we’re led to believe is) a (partially) fact-based story - but I could never get over the weak, awkward dialogue and amateurish prose.
Ultimately a worthy tale and a worthy effort to tell it. But while the story is incredible and inspiring, the book in which it gets told is only alright.
Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
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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One feature of every hugely engaging novel is that it’s palpable throughout that the author has invested a great deal of heart and imagination into the narrative. This is far from always the case. There’s sometimes a sense an author is fulfilling a contractual obligation or is never quite inspired by his/her characters or story. This is one of those novels where it’s obvious the author has thrown himself heart and soul into his material and achieved an imaginative identification with its hero so intense that he is able to write as if he experienced everything first hand. The visual detail throughout was especially mesmerising.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the fictionalised true story of a young Italian boy’s experiences during WW2. Pino Lella never spoke about his wartime exploits until he was an old man. There was a reason for this. Despite his heroics he has carried with him a harrowing haunting secret, a secret he believes to be shameful. We won’t find out what this secret is until the latter part of the novel.
Pino performs two wartime roles – firstly he becomes the guide of an underground escape route for Jewish families fleeing to Switzerland. Later he becomes the driver of one of the most powerful Nazi generals in Italy. In this role he wears a German uniform and the swastika armband, much to the disgust of many of his family, friends and countrymen. However, unknown to everyone, even his brother, he is working as a spy.
At one point there’s the suspicion this book is too long. The war in Milan is over and yet there are still over a hundred pages to go. But the huge surprise now is the tension is ratcheted up even further. The final hundred pages are the most intense of the novel, quite a feat considering how exciting the narrative has been throughout.
One problem with fictionalising real life is it doesn’t always offer the resolutions that are a vital part of the form of the novel. We need to feel a story has sense, that all the loose threads are eventually embroidered into the tapestry. I was worrying about this towards the end. I was especially thinking of a minor and yet oddly significant character who appeared early in the narrative but then vanished. I found I wanted to know what happened to him. Then, lo and behold, he reappears. This is another extraordinary facet of Pino’s life – it often assumes the tidy order of a novel. This is most astonishingly true when he discovers the maid of his general’s mistress is the older woman he once on an impulse asked for a date on the streets of Milan. Anna, the woman, becomes the love of his love. It’s like there’s no such thing as a random encounter in Pino’s life. All the dots are joined. This is further emphasised in the brief account of Pino’s post-war life – one day he meets an old friend who persuades him to cancel the flight he’s booked on so they can catch up – the flight he cancels is the infamous Lockerbie flight that crashes in Scotland. He also tries to dissuade James Dean from buying the Porsche that killed him when he’s working as a car salesman in California! His instinct is Dean won’t be able to handle the power of the car.
I will say there is one resolution we don’t get, which is the mystery of the German officer he works for. The author endeavours to clear him up at the end of the novel but the vital mystery of him eludes him.
Anyway, this was a fabulous read. A stunning feat of research and imaginative identification and gripping storytelling.
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.