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One Scarred Heart Rescues Another

Elizabeth Sullivan

"It was in February of 2006. My younger brother and best friend had drunk himself to death, I’d written a novel that no one liked, I was in this huge business dispute that had us on the verge of personal bankruptcy, and driving on a snowy Montana afternoon . . . I realized I was worth more dead than alive." -- Mark Sullivan

The following are highlights from a conversation with Mark Sullivan about his book, and future feature length film, Beneath A Scarlet Sky. To listen to the entire conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: One of the things you write as her [Anna, Pino Lella's love] is:

“I’m not ready to reveal my scars to you. I don’t want you to see me human and  flawed and and whole. I want this, us, to be a fantasy we can share. A diversion from the war.”

How did you know you wanted to write it that way?

Mark Sullivan: Hearing the story, especially the story of [Pino] and Anna, was the most emotional thing I’ve ever gone through as a writer. And just about every aspect of his journey during that last 20 months of the war was deeply emotional . . . It changed me in a way I never expected. I knew what he had done is open up his scarred heart, and I wanted to have that as a theme early, because I believe that is when we are made whole in the eyes of other people, when we can show them our flaws and our scars. The good things and the bad things that have happened to us, and that is when we see the true nature of a relationship too. . .

Which brings me to your own journey, then, with this book. If you can, talk about your sense of “the dark forest” or “the abyss” maybe in contrast or comparison to Pino’s.

The way I found the story was fairly remarkable. At least it is to me. It was in February of 2006. My younger brother and best friend had drunk himself to death, I’d written a novel that no one liked, I was in this huge business dispute that had us on the verge of personal bankruptcy, and driving on a snowy Montana afternoon . . . I realized I was worth more dead than alive. And I seriously considered driving into the 19th St bridge abutment. No one would have suspected suicide, my family could have collected on the insurance. But I didn’t. I saw my wife and kids in the snow, and I didn’t. But I pulled into the Costco parking lot as rattled as I’ve been in my entire life and put my head down and begged God and the Universe for a story. Something that had purpose and meaning because I wasn’t feeling the purpose and meaning in my life at that point.

And I went home, didn’t tell my wife what I’d gone through. She was sick with the flu and that evening she forces me to go to a dinner party that I had no interest in attending. I go to the dinner party . . . and I’m miserable, but I’m trying to put on a happy face and during the course of the dinner a person  starts telling me about Pino Lella. . . and . . .I can’t believe it at first. I didn’t believe it at first. I just said, “We would have heard this story: bringing Jews over the top of the Alps into Switzerland, skiing them on their backs, and spying inside the German high command." And then the next thing I heard was, “He’s alive.”

Beneath A Scarlet Sky

It reminds me of the theme of faith, what we cling to maybe when we think we have nothing left. What were Pino’s anchors through the darkest times of the war?

Well I think love.  His love for Anna, his love for his family, his love for his country. It was the thing that supported him. He genuinely likes people. He’s one of these 'instantaneous friends' kind of guys: very loving, very warm, very giving. Not a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination, but then again who is? Everybody has their scars, and I learned that from him. I learned that if somebody could go through what he had gone through then my own personal problems, my situation . . . became paler and paler, and smaller and smaller. I recognized I had a pretty sweet life, and I should be grateful for it. 

About the Book:

Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during one of history’s darkest hours.

Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.

In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.

Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share.

Fans of All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, and Unbroken will enjoy this riveting saga of history, suspense, and love, which is soon to be a major motion picture from Pascal Pictures, starring Tom Holland.

Credit Elizabeth Sullivan
Mark Sullivan

  About the Author: 

Mark Sullivan is the acclaimed author of eighteen novels, including the USA Today, Wall Street Journal and #1 Kindle bestselling Beneath A Scarlet Sky, and the #1 New York Times bestselling Private series, which he writes with James Patterson. Mark has received numerous awards for his writing, including the WHSmith Fresh Talent Award, and his works have been named a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year. He grew up in Medfield, Massachusetts, and graduated from Hamilton College with a BA in English before working as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. Upon his return to the United States, he earned a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and began a career in investigative journalism. An avid skier and adventurer, he lives with his wife in Bozeman, Montana, where he remains grateful for the miracle of every moment. You can visit him at

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