Beneath a Scarlet Sky Summary & Study Guide

Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

  • 53-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 34 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with an MFA in Creative Writing
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Beneath a Scarlet Sky Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 53-page guide for “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” by Mark Sullivan includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 34 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Either/Or Binaries and Faith in God and His Plan.

Plot Summary

Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a coming-of-age historical novel that follows Pino Lella, a 17-year-old Milanese boy, as he navigates the dangers of Nazi-occupied Italy during the height of World War II. The novel is largely based on the real-life account of Pino Lella, who was an old man by the time he decided to share his story. Sullivan’s novel is based on Pino’s memories of events, interviews with Holocaust historians, Italian Catholic priests, and members of the partisan resistance, as well as weeks spent researching in the war archives in Italy, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The novel begins on the first night of the Allied bombing of Milan, Italy: June 9, 1943. Pino and his family leave the city at night and return in the morning to increased destruction as Milan is bombed. Pino’s mother, Porzia, and sister, Cicci, have evacuated to another city, and Pino’s father, Michele, has sent Pino’s brother, Mimo, to Casa Alpina, a boarding school north of Milan near the Alps. When Pino and his father return to Milan one morning after a night of bombing, the Lellas’ apartment has been reduced to rubble. Michele decides to send Pino to Casa Alpina to wait out the war.

Pino is reluctant to go to Casa Alpina but quickly befriends Alberto Ascari, a boy who lives in a town not far from Casa Alpina. Ascari teaches Pino how to drive and in exchange, Pino teaches Ascari how to ski. While at Casa Alpina, Father Re, the priest who looks after the school, enlists Pino to help Italian refugees escape the Nazis to Switzerland. Pino finds a new sense of importance while helping the refugees escape the Nazis and determines that he will do what he can to fight the Nazis in the war.

Before too long, Michele calls him back to Milan. Pino is nearing his 18th birthday, and Michele and Uncle Albert fear that Pino will be drafted and sent to die on the Russian front. They insist that Pino enlist with the Germans to ensure Pino is placed with a unit that won’t see any fighting. Pino is angry about this decision because he’s vowed to fight the Nazis.

While working for the German army, Pino is injured during the bombing of a train station. While recovering, a fortuitous encounter with a German general places Pino in a position to spy for the Allies. General Hans Leyers, one of the most powerful Germans in Italy, asks Pino to be his personal driver when he sees that Pino knows his way around the engine of a car. When Pino picks up Leyers on the first morning of his new job, he discovers that Anna, a woman Pino had fallen in love with on the first day of the bombing, works as a maid for the general’s mistress. Pino decides that his role as driver and spy afford him not only a way to secretly fight the Nazis, but also a way to be close to Anna.

Throughout his tenure as Leyers’ personal driver, Pino witnesses the way the Nazis work their prisoners to death. He comes to view Leyers as a slave master and despises him for it. Pino also struggles when his best friend Carletto Beltramini, Mimo, and his countrymen think Pino is a traitor for wearing the Nazi uniform. Secretly though, Pino reports information pertaining to the days he spends with Leyers to Uncle Albert, who then relays the information to London through shortwave radio.

As the war draws to a close, the partisan fighters in Italy charge Pino with arresting Leyers and turning him over. After he does so, Pino believes it’s the last time he will ever see Leyers and regrets not revealing to him that he had been a spy for the Allies all along. The city of Milan goes through several days of insurrection, where the Nazis are driven out and the bodies of Fascists litter the streets from revenge killings. After celebrating the end of the war at a party with American GIs, Pino is horrified to learn that Anna never made it out of Milan; partisan soldiers abducted her. Later, he watches as she is executed on charges of being a Nazi collaborator.

Hollowed out, Pino agrees to one last mission for the Americans: Pino must drive Leyers across the border into Austria. Pino is shocked and confused to hear Leyers called a hero and decides to deliver justice to the general. Pino agrees to drive Leyers with the intention of killing him before crossing the Austrian border. However, when Pino is presented with his chance, he loses his nerve and delivers the general across the border to the waiting Americans. Before he leaves, Leyers reveals that Anna’s death was his own doing, insinuating that he knew about Pino’s activity all along. This fills Pino with questions and doubt for years to come after the war.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky’s multidimensional characterizations of the agents and spies of the Allied and Axis powers frame World War II as both an emotional and physical battle, suggesting that no historically fraught period can be transmitted in simple terms, but might be made intelligible through the power of narrative.

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