This book. Wow. This is one of those books that you may only read once, but you will never forget it. You will never forget the story, the people, the emotions, the events, and growth and changes that occur in both the characters and even yourself. I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for a World War II story. But maybe “sucker” isn’t the right word. Not for World War II. Not for something that was so significant to the history of the entire world. Not for something that turned the world upside down and ensured that no one would ever be the same. No, I’m not a sucker for World War II stories. I am captivated by them. Never in the history of the world have more stories of both tragedy and triumph come from a singular event. Through this horrific, terrible war the absolute best and worst in people rose to the top. Evil ravaged the world. But good — good prevailed. Good won. But not before evil left pain, heartbreak, death, and destruction in its wake. Out of the darkness of this long and painful war came hope. Hope that found its way through unsung and often unknown heroes, quietly risking their lives every day to provide refuge to frightened Jews, relay top secret information across enemy lines, fight valiantly in battle after battle, and so much more. I can only imagine the hundreds of thousands of stories of unsung heroes that have never been told. This story, of a young Italian boy, was once one of them.
Pino Lella is only seventeen when he is sent to a boys’ school run by a Catholic priest in the Alps to escape the effects of the war in Milan, Italy in 1943. Soon (after weeks of training through early morning climbs on the mountains) he finds himself a vital part of an underground railroad that gives passage to Italian Jewish refugees over the Alps to Sweden. Right before his eighteenth birthday, however, Pino is summoned back home. Through a series of events, Pino finds himself being forced to enlist in the Nazi’s Organization Tote. After being injured, Pino ends up being recruited to be the driver for Adolf Hitler’s left-hand man: General Hans Leyers. Through this job, Pino becomes a spy for the Allies, assisting in preventing the deaths of many Allied soldiers and providing their armies with upper hand against Hitler’s armies. Mark Sullivan’s account of Pino Lella’s life follows him through his trials in the Alps, his harrowing work as the personal driver for a Nazi general (while he himself had no desire to be a Nazi), his love for the sweet Ana, and everything in between. This remarkably true story has twists and turns and left me hanging on every word. I could almost feel the bitter cold of the Alps in the winter, taste the tension of spying on the people you work for, and feel the passion of Pino’s love for Ana.
This story left me in tears many times. There were scenes that left me speechless. And a bittersweet scene I will never, ever be able to get out of my mind literally dropped my jaw. I am someone who loves hearing true stories and reading biographies, but I firmly believe this book could capture the attention of even the most indifferent reader. Sullivan takes a true story and writes about it in a way that honors the life of a quiet hero and draws the reader in to listen. Like many other accounts from World War II, the story of Pino Lella will forever be filed away in my memories. I will not forget the story of the boy who drove for and spied on General Hans Leyers.
If it wasn’t already clear enough, I give Beneath a Scarlet Sky 5/5 stars.
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