Beneath a Scarlet Sky Summary

Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.

Taking place during World War II, American author Mark Sullivan’s historical fiction, Beneath a Scarlet Sky (2017), follows Pino Lella, an Italian teenager whose ordinary life is disturbed by the bombing of his home city of Milan. Suddenly forced out of an epicurean, innocent, almost idyllic teenage life, he makes use of his privilege to help Jews escape across the Alps, falling in love with Anna in the process. As Hitler’s terror spreads, Pino’s parents try to keep him safe by enlisting him in the German army. Once injured, he is assigned to be the driver for General Hans Leyers, Hitler’s close confidant. Pino risks the death penalty, using his position to become a critical informant for the Allied powers, yearning for the day he can return to Anna.

Pino relaxes, listening to the radio before going to meet his friends in town. Afterward, he goes to talk about life with Cardinal Schuster at the Duomo, an important Milan cathedral. That evening, he tries to pick up girls on the street. After numerous rejections, he meets Anna, whom he invites to the cinema; she agrees, and they plan to meet later in the night. Pino arrives at the cinema with his friend, Mimo; Pino is crestfallen, but not wholly surprised, when Anna doesn’t show up.

Anna’s absence is soon explained when bombs begin to fall from the sky. Pino and Mimo rush home and survive the bombing. In the ensuing days, the Lellas go out into the country every night to avoid any potential bombings. When their family store is destroyed, they send Pino to a sanctuary in Casa Alpina, the residence of the priest Father Re. When he arrives, Father Re assigns him a hiking route, informing him that he intends to train him to smuggle refugees to a safe haven across the Italian border. Despite the risk, Pino agrees. One night, a political gang robs Pino and his companions, killing one of the party’s members. Father Re pales at the tragedy, but, knowing that a much greater tragedy is ongoing in Europe, refuses to stop helping refugees.

The gang from the party continues to stalk and threaten Pino. With Mimo, he ventures to the border to smuggle a family out of Italy. Among the members is a pregnant violinist. As they approach the border, an avalanche delays and nearly kills them. After pulling themselves from the rubble, Pino takes the violinist off on his own, rushing her to the border on a pair of skis. At the same time, the Gestapo invades Casa Alpina to root out refugees. The remaining boys successfully divert their attention. Fearing for their son’s life, Pino’s parents demand that he come home to train as a German soldier. Immediately put on duty, he sustains an injury early on and is selected by General Hans Leyers to drive him. Pino’s uncle and aunt recommend that he use this chance to spy for the Allies. The first morning of his new job, Pino drives to pick up General Leyers and sees Anna. The general directs Pino to Como, where he arrives at a stadium full of slaves doing hard labor.

Pino goes on to become a translator between Mussolini and Leyers. When he returns to Milan, he goes to see his old friend Carletto, witnessing a bombing that kills a local Mr. Beltramini, just after he spots Pino wearing a swastika. When Carletto realizes Pino is a Nazi, he cuts ties with him. The following day, Pino drives the general to a prison, and witnesses a mass execution. He steals the key to the general’s suitcase; Anna witnesses the act, but sides with him. When Pino goes home, he finds Mimo, who excoriates him for working for the Nazis. Pino despairs, knowing that he cannot tell Mimo the real nature of his work.

The Allies begin to make progress against the Germans due to Pino’s information. One day, Pino and Leyers are attacked by an Allied faction while in transit, but they survive. During this dangerous time, he finds a way to take Anna to visit the mountains. She helps Pino obtain a contraband radio; Pino takes pictures of the documents in the general’s suitcase while he is intoxicated. He receives a call that one of his childhood friends has died, and goes back to Casa Alpina to help bury her. He returns to the general and witnesses him spare a few Jews on their way to Auschwitz. Pino discovers that his uncle Albert has been detained under suspicion of spying for the Allies. Mimo confronts him, and Pino reveals that he is a spy as well. Mimo pressures him to abduct the general and bring him to an address. Before he attempts it, he proposes to Anna, who accepts. Pino turns the general in and returns home to find that Albert has escaped from prison. Pino reconciles with Carletto and invites him to a party celebrating the end of the war.

The next day, Pino finds that Anna and Dolly have been arrested. He witnesses their public execution among a crowd of others and goes to the cathedral intending to commit suicide. Cardinal Schuster stops him just in time. The next day, he says farewell to Anna at the cemetery. He takes on an assignment to smuggle General Leyers to the border; while transporting him, the general tells Pino that Anna’s death was his doing, insinuating that he knew about Pino’s activity all along.

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