My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Even with exclusive interviews with the hero himself, it takes a tremendous amount of additional research and some wonderful writing to produce such a compelling account of the wartime years of Giuseppe (Pino) Lella. In his telling of Pino’s story, Mark Sullivan has achieved the pinnacle of his craft. If I could award six, or even ten stars to this book, I would.
Initially, Pino is just doing as his father and the priest, Father Re, tell him to do. He learns to be a guide in the Italian Alps and builds his strength. Despite the threat of the Alpine climate, challenging terrain and some people with very evil intentions, he delivers many Jews from Father Re’s school into the safe hands of Mr Bergstrom in a forest that straddles the Italian-Swiss border.
Eventually, he returns to his home city of Milan and fortuitously, almost by accident, becomes the driver of General Hans Leyers, Hitler’s second-in-command in Italy. This gives him the opportunity to enter a very dangerous career as a spy for the Allies. By now, he fully understands the dangers and is a true, if somewhat reluctant, hero. He also meets Anna, a young lady whom he’d last seen on the day of the first bombardment of Milan by the Allied bombers. She’d stood him up on a cinema date on that evening and had been on Pino’s mind ever since. Despite an age difference, they fall in love and Anna is complicit in Pino’s espionage activities.
I shan’t say any more about the story except that it is gripping to the point of distraction. On two occasions, I rose early from my bed and donned my running kit, with good intentions. I picked up my book to read a couple of pages before I set off, then spent the next two hours reading. It takes something serious to keep me from my running. This book was it.
The horror, sadness, brutality, unfairness and continuous, sudden shocks of war are all vividly illustrated in Sullivan’s account of Pino’s life. The author also does a great job of hitting home the awful truths that violent death is often sudden and is always irreversible and that the killing and horrific injuries and other terrible consequences of war do not magically stop the moment that peace is declared.
The book is further enhanced by a fairly lengthy and very interesting Aftermath, which explains much of what has happened in the lives of Pio and the other principal characters since the end of the war.
I cannot recommend this book enough. Read it and be prepared to have your emotions stretched to their limits.
Mark and Pino at Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Sullivan
Pino’s son, Michael, has written an essay that explains more of the truth behind Pino’s story. It is well worth are read, although I would recommend that you leave it until after you have finished reading the book, including the Aftermath. You will find Michael’s essay here.