Top critical review
How is this so popular?
September 10, 2018
Maybe I'm being too critical, but I have been struggling with this story for a while now. Originally I was attracted to this novel by its never-before-told aspect along with its emphasis on Italy and the often-overlooked heroes within that country. I had previously read "From Sand and Ash" which first introduced me to this branch of WW2 history even though it was a completely fictitious story. I expected "Beneath a Scarlet Sky" to provide a more accurate account of a real-life person who had been involved in these events. Unfortunately, I have been incredibly disappointed.
First, let me say that regardless of how much of this is actually true (and I have my doubts), this fictionalized version of Pino Lella is so unrealistic. Essentially, he's a seventeen-year-old prodigy who can do no wrong. He is strong, clever, exceptionally skilled at pretty much anything he attempts, and he doesn't seem to have any real conflict with or animosity toward anyone (well, except the Nazis). He is quite possibly one of the most unrelatable characters that I've ever come across in a literary work. Just as ONE example, here is a future race car driver complimenting Pino on what a gifted driver he is, because of course he is:
"Pino allowed a mild smile. “You catch on fast. I wish I could have finished my driving lessons.” “You are already very, very good, Pino,” Ascari said. “You have the touch, the feel for the car that is rare.” Pino basked in the praise." p. 163 (Kindle edition)
Since all the attention is given to Pino and his amazing accomplishments, the supporting characters are extremely bland and indistinguishable. The only thing I really knew about each character was if they were "good" or "bad" (and this was primarily based on whether or not they were German).
Second, I was surprised by the simplicity of the writing. At times, the text reads like a middle-grade textbook as it lists off names, facts, and dates. The dialogues felt very stilted and occasionally only consisted of a couple of lines before ending abruptly. If it was going to be so concise, did there really need to be a dialogue at all?
While I normally get frustrated with authors who insist on including excessively detailed descriptions of the characters and their surroundings, this book had almost none. This made it hard for me to immerse myself in 1940s Italy. At first, I assumed that perhaps this author just doesn't care to spend a lot of time on superfluous descriptions. However, the passages about Pino hiking went on and on FOREVER! Here were the descriptions I wanted back when I was first introduced to the characters in Milan, but now they were unnecessarily lengthy and only focused on a single character and his "treacherous" hikes through the Alps.
Third, precious little in this book actually feels plausible or authentic. There are so many instances of characters (especially Pino) who just happen to be in the right place at the right time. The moment where this novel lost ALL credibility was when Pino, after almost single-handedly digging out from an avalanche, goes skiing with a pregnant woman clutching onto his back. This woman, who had been spotting blood only moments before and felt so weak she couldn't go on, lets out a "Wheeeeeeee" as they race downhill and then plays her violin for him after they reach safety. Ummmm, no. I've read historical fiction with completely fabricated characters and situations that have felt less fictional than this.
It grieves me so much - especially considering this is based upon real heroes - but I can neither continue this nor recommend it to others. If you've read it and know that it gets better, let me know and I may give it another shot. But for now, I'm done.