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I normally leave my book reviews on GoodReads, if I do them at all. But since today is the anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, and Beneath a Scarlet Sky: a Novel by Mark Sullivan was so powerfully moving to me I decided to write about it here.
This is a novel based on the true life of Pino Lello, an Italian teenager caught up in the chaos of World War II Milan. Pino is recruited by a priest to help smuggle Jews out of Italy. His mother insists he join the Nazi army when he turns 18 so he won’t be forced to join the Italian Army (with a 50% survival rate at that point of the war). Eventually he becomes the driver for a high ranking German general with access to top secret information which he shares with the Italian Resistance. Along the way he falls in love and has to cope with resentment of family and friends as he secretly spies on the Nazis while wearing their uniform.
And that’s all I am going to reveal. The story is too good to tell you much more.
I will say it is beautifully written. The characters are well developed and even knowing what eventually happens in the grand scheme doesn’t change the excitement of the story. The Allies defeat the Nazis in case you don’t already know. The descriptions of what transpired in the final years of World War II are horrifying, but in a way, necessary for us to read. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The book contains graphic descriptions of violence. It is a war novel, what do you expect? And, sex is alluded to. Seriously, skip over the few vague paragraphs scattered throughout the book if you are going to be bothered by any mere reference to such a physical act.
The book was so powerful to me because of the parallels to the world today.
As an American, the Italians would have been considered our enemies at this point. Except most weren’t. Most of them were waiting for the day the Allies came in and pushed the Fascists and Nazis out. Many Italians were working to assist the Allies behind the scenes. Some, like Pino, appeared to be Nazis or at least Nazi sympathizers in order to survive.
Many Americans hate “all” fill in the blank. Muslims, Cops, Republicans, Democrats, etc. They are “all” beneath contempt. Except that they are all individuals. Not all cops are racist, not all Muslims are terrorists, etc.
Life isn’t that simple.
We like to think of the World War II era as cut and dry. Allies good. Axis bad. But all Germans weren’t Anti-Semitic. All Italians weren’t Fascist. Many followed along out of fear. Others let their hatred rule them.
At the end of the war in Italy there was a horrible backlash against the Fascists and Nazis that led to similar finger pointing, torture and death to innocent people as occurred under Mussolini and Hitler’s orders. A mob mentality broke out and anyone even remotely suspected of sympathizing with “the enemy” needed to be destroyed.
Mussolini was an absolute nut case. But the desecration of his and his mistress’ bodies was disturbing. People became so angered by years of repression and deprivation that they committed horrible acts they would not have otherwise.
I see and hear comments on social media these days that make me fear for something similar to happen. Not from “the enemy” but from the good-hearted people that get swept up in hate and blame.
At least that’s what I took away from the book.