BENEATH A SCARLET SKY
BY MARK SULLIVAN
We always love it when other book clubs recommend us one of their top reads, and this book came highly recommended by another Den club. It tells the true story of a young man’s remarkable and unique experiences as a spy for the Allies during German’s occupation of Italy so is a timely choice for summer time when the country commemorates VE Day (in May).
Giuseppe “Pino” Lella lives in Milan where his family run a successful leather business and live a comfortable middle class life. It is not until he is aged 17 that Germany's occupation of Italy truly affects Milan. Initially Pino is sent away by his parents to escape the danger and live in the Alps under the care of Father Re at Casa Alpina. Under his guidance he uses his knowledge of the Alps to help Jews escape across the border into Switzerland. However when Pino is about to turn 18, to save him going to the front line, his parents persuade him to return to Milan and enlist with the Germans for the Organization Todt.
A chance encounter with General Leyers results in him unexpectedly becoming Leyers’s driver. General Leyers was the Plenipotentiary to the Reich Minister for Armaments and War Production in Italy, who had the power to do whatever was necessary for the sake of the Nazi war machine working with the full authority of Albert Speer and reporting directly to Hitler. Pino’s uncle can’t believe this stroke of luck and tells Pino he must be their spy. From this point on, Pino, who is party to several key meetings with Moussilini, Colonel Walter Rauff and Cardinal Schuster reports back on what he sees and learns.
The story follows Pino’s life, as he serves under General Leyers right through until the end of the war. He witnesses horrors, death, shame, but at the same time finds precious moments of love and happiness. It is a moving, heart-breaking and almost unbelievable account of a young man’s experience of war.
A film of this book is planned in the future starring Tom Holland so a good book club choice.