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This historical-fiction novel tells the story of a seventeen-year-old boy who lived in Milan, Italy, in 1943. Pino Lella was a typical teenager until the allies began bombing Milan in June 1943. He and his fifteen-year-old brother were in a movie theater when the first bombs hit. Both escaped, but their lives were changed forever. His father ordered him to go north to a church-run place for sanctuary in the Italian Alps. He had stayed there earlier, knew the priest, and became an exceptional Alpine skier and mountain climber.
The first weeks at the lodge, Father Re, the priest in charge, had him climbing the neighboring mountains getting him refamiliarized with the area and building his strength. Sooner than both would have liked, he was pressed into service to lead Jews from Italy to Switzerland to avoid the Nazis and deportation to a concentration camp or immediate death. After several death-defying trips, he returned to Milan where Nazi leadership was using as a base of operations. His parents insisted that he enlist in the Nazi Army because the Italian soldiers were being sent to the Russian front.
Pino did as he was told and enlisted in the TODT corps which was the supply and engineering section of the Nazi Army. Through a strange coincidence, he became the senior Nazi general’s driver. Additionally, he was a spy for the allies. His uncle was his contact point and both didn’t tell his parents or brother until near the war’s end.
This is a war story, a love story, and a story about the cruelty of war. There are so many twists and turns to Pino’s life during and after the war that one would think he was a created character but the author spent days talking with Pino at his home in Italy. While reading this book, I realized how few books I had read about Italy during WWII. It brought to my attention how the civilian victims of war suffer the conquests both of the invaders and those that free them. Many of the lessons of this story can be applied to today’s Middle East. This story will bring you love, hate, joy, and tears. Superbly written, it deserves a place on your history reading list.