May Book Club: Beneath a Scarlet Sky


If you are reading along with our Military Moms Blog Book Club, you know that our monthly selections are a variety. Our selections range between fiction and nonfiction, and our genres are limitless. I enjoy when a book is suggested by one of our members; I enjoy it even more when that choice has a connection to some or all of us.

We read “The Con Man’s Daughter” by fellow City Moms Blog Network writer Candice Curry. We finished “The Invention of Wings” last month, and Leah was able to get us personal pictures from the character’s real-life homes. Julie suggested “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” for our May selection because it takes place in Italy, where some of us have lived or traveled.

Another perfect selection that hits our readers personally!

I was excited to read this historical fiction and to see if I could recognize some of the places mentioned in the book. This book, based on the true life story of Pino Lella, takes place in Northern Italy during World War II. Pino is an Italian teenager living in Milan and thinking of anything but war – his life is about girls, food, wine, music, and his future. The war hits Milan quickly, and Pino must grow up even quicker in this new order. 

His tale is dangerous, brave, and heartbreaking. Pino works on an underground network in the Alps, aiding Jewish Italians in escaping to Switzerland. His parents force him to enlist in the German military to avoid being sent to the front in Eastern Europe. He finds himself a driver for General Hans Leyers, one of the most powerful Nazi leaders in Italy; this role protects him but thrusts him in the middle of terrors. Pino falls in love with Anna, and he also loses that love in the aftermath of fascism and terror in Italy. He survives the war, but the effects and the memories never leave Pino Lella.

It is difficult to imagine that this book is based on a true story. We do not want to imagine this world of war. The author Mark Sullivan discusses his time in Italy with Pino as he prepared to write the book. The dialogue and elements of the story may be fictional, but the characters are real. It is challenging to imagine such a life of death, destruction, and pain, yet Sullivan shares Pino’s story in a compelling way.

Standing outside the Duomo in 2013. I never thought of what the war would have done to this magnificent structure or what horrors took place in this piazza I’m standing on.

Now that I have read this story, I wish I could return to Milan.

I feel that I may see parts of the city differently. I would look for any physical impairments or descriptions of damage to the Duomo in the heart of the city; the structure managed to stay relatively intact for the duration of the war. I would seek out Piazzale Loreto and ponder the scene of Mussolini and his mistress’s desecration. The piazzas and the Castle Sforzesco would be more than just tourist attractions, for many people fought and died in these places. Milan would look much differently than it did on my first visit.

The story ends with the war, and although I would say this was a happy ending, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” is a heartbreaking story of life and loss from one extraordinary man’s point of view. Mark Sullivan gave Pino Lella’s tale a voice, one that is not often heard in World War II history. We enjoyed the book and hope you did, too! You can learn more about the author and this story here.

Our next month’s selection is “The Woman in the Window” by A.J.Finn!