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  • Writer's pictureAlanna Grayce

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

I’m going to tell y’all a little story today. Our book of the month this month is Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan- and let me tell you, this is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. This is a true story, ok? It’s kind of an as told to situation- plus it’s wild how it all came together. The author, Mark Sullivan, is literally suicidal and about to kill himself. Like in the act of about to do it, but he can’t get his wife and kids out of his head so he turns around and goes home. Doesn't tell his wife what just happens and she’s like hey I’m sick so I can’t go to this dinner party, I need you to go it would be so rude if we didn’t. So he goes and is like I’ll stay for an hour- and that’s the night he hears the story that literally changes his life, at that dinner.

Mark heard the story from a friend of a friend of Pino, and then wrote this book after hearing his life story. Mark gets in contact with him and convinces Pino to tell him the story and let him do the book, right? And then he goes and lives in Pino’s Italian villa with him for like three weeks while he writes it. That is what makes me love it so much. First of all, it literally saved a mans life. But more than that, this literal HERO is just out here living life, chilling, living quietly, experiencing some of life’s greatest highs and lowest lows. He never would have told his story- and probably no one else would have told his incredible story either, had he not just so happened to have known somebody who knew Mark Sullivan. This book is inspirational, it is gripping, and it is honest to God the story of a lifetime.

Now technically, it is historical fiction i think because there are definitely some holes that get filled in a little bit with some research and some artistic assumptions, but the story is true based on Pino’s testimony.

I’m not going to ruin anything for you, ok? Obviously I’m going to tell you some things you wouldn’t have known if you’d never read the book, but I’m not ruining any huge secrets and I encourage you to PLEASE read this. I swear it is one of the best books I’ve ever come across, and it has stuck with me in the most unique way.

So there’s this young man named Pino, he lives in Milan with his like decently well-off family. He is a normal Italian teenaged boy, and he loooooves food and girls and going on dates, but as the Nazis invade Italy he is forced to care about this war that he has tried so hard to avoid caring about. His family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs that are trying to destroy the Nazi stronghold, which sucks. So his dad sends his mom and sister to the coast where they would be safer, and he sends Pino and his little brother to live in this like boys school at a church in this small town in the Alps. Now this is a place that they’ve been tons of times in their life, and the Father that runs it knows them well. He starts making Pino hike every single day, because he is like way older than a bunch of the boys that live there. Turns out, he has an ulterior motive- and Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps.

This is like an important part of Pino’s story too. And it raises the question for many of like- these are different belief systems, so do we think that maybe a Christian would help a Muslim in a similar manner today? To that, I say- absolutely. A true Christian- of which there are few and far between- would help 100%. Have you ever seen the videos from a few years back of Egyptian Christians making a human shield around Muslims praying in public when Muslims were being attacked? Like that shit stirs my soul. So for that reason, yeah. Anybody with a heart that can like overcome fear and put a love of others above self preservation- yes, they would help.

I will say though, that I do not think an underground railroad exactly LIKE THIS could exist in today’s world. I think that with the digital trails we leave, with the use of satellite imagery intelligence, like all of this combined we could not do this the way they did. I do think it could probably be pulled off but it would take way more stealth and like tons of tons of advance planning.

Okay, now back to the story. Like a few months later, Pino’s parents enlist him as a Nazi soldier in an attempt to protect him- a kind of like when you’re in the eye of the tornado you’re safe kind of thing, right? They think that doing this they’ll be able to keep him out of combat and hopefully keep him safe. Later, he’s injured and so because he knows how to drive he becomes the personal driver for Hitler’s left hand man in Italy, General Hans Leyers. He was one of the Third Reich’s most powerful.

There are some major questions around General Leyers. So during the duration of Pino knowing him, he seems kind of shook after loading people onto trains to send them to concentration camps. Leyers even saves some sickly children from getting on the train. Which leads to some questions, ya know? Did he know what was happening but then like, seeing it made it real and scared him? Did he not know and when he found out he was genuinely shook? Did he save the little children because he was himself a father and wanted to show some compassion somehow, maybe ease his guilt a little? Or did he think this was some kind of favor that he could cash in on later? He was a very political, strategic man- maybe he was saving up stuff he could be like “Hey allies I did this small thing that was maybe nice, help me out!!!” ya know?

And then after the war is over in Italy, after all is said and done, Pino gets the opportunity to kill General Leyers. And he chooses to not to. To show him some kind of mercy, I think- to prove to himself, probably, that he is not as dark and inhuman as the Nazis.

So, Pino becomes a spy for the Allies. He sees the horrors of war from both sides, and he puts himself in a terribly dangerous position of spying INSIDE THE GERMAN HIGH COMMAND FOR THE ALLIES.

Now- along the way, his little brother joins this guerilla group so that creates some major family tension. Not from Pino and the rest of the family- but the little brother is pissed that his big brother is a NAZI. But what nobody can tell him, because it’s too risky, is that PINO IS A SPY. so Pino just has to completely sacrifice his relationship with his baby brother and hope one of them doesn’t die before they can tell him the truth right?

Meanwhile, Pino falls in love with a woman a few years older than him named Anna. They actually run into each other a few times along the way- for which reason you absolutely cannot tell me that the were not meant for each other. Anyway, they fall madly in love of course, and Anna becomes this absolutely like life changing, so important part of his entire journey. Like her presence on this earth changes every single thing that he experiences from the moment he met her, moving on.

So pretty much the end of the book, the Germans surrender- and we quickly see the Italians turn on each other. Like neighbors ripping each other apart, slaughtering their own countrymen because “you were friendly” or “you did nothing to stop things”. This is heartbreaking, ya know? Like you’ve just survived German occupation and you suddenly have ALL of this pent up anger and hostility and fear that you’ve not been able to act on for so so long, and you just let it out on your neighbors. I can’t imagine. I cannot imagine having gone through that, I cannot imagine turning on my neighbors either though. And like I have no idea what I would do in that situation, and I doubt I would easily forgive neighbors that I felt were maybe too friendly with the Nazis. I probably wouldn’t trust them. But reacting like that- I don’t know. Like I said, they have so much pent up anger and trauma, I can’t imagine. What do y’all think you would do?

SO at the beginning of the book, bombs are being dropped on the city of Milan. Pino’s friend’s father is able to save his grocery somehow, in spite of whole sections of the city being flattened. Mr. Beltramini says to Pino, “If a bomb’s coming at you, it’s coming at you. You can’t just go around worrying about it. Just go on doing what you love, and go on enjoying your life.” I want to end on that, because we live in a tumultuous time. We live in a time when we know everything that’s going on in the world, especially the bad things, and it’s hard not to let all that weigh on and worry us. But we have to just keep living, man, like Matthew McConoughey always says. We have to enjoy the life we love while we have it, because we don’t have it for long.

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