Words for Nerds

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan

Y’all know I cannot resist a World War II tale!

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.

This story is intense and unbelievable at times. There are parts that I am not sure I believe, but I also do not think it is up to me to decide what is and is not true here. This book is a collection of Pino’s truths. I tend to think that the experiences people have during war are typically unbelievable and overwhelming. It is easy for me to believe that someone could have survived what Pino did. War is a messy and devastating experience that puts people into impossible and bizarre situations.

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Overall, I did not care for Sullivan’s writing style and the prose often felt clumsy and poorly constructed. The story in incredible, but the book is not. Despite that, it is a story that deserves telling and Pino Lella has survived a lot. It also appears that a movie will soon be made starring Tom Holland, so that should be good!

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

Warlight

In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself–shadowed and luminous at once–we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings’ mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn’t know and understand in that time, and it is this journey–through facts, recollection, and imagination–that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.

If you have ever seen or read The English Patient, then you already know that Ondaatje has an exquisite way with words. Unfortunately, I had to force myself to finish this and I never connected with it. I thought the boy, Nathaniel, was immature and ridiculous. You do not get to be a shit because life has been tough. If you are looking for a novel with a World War II setting as told through the perspective of a child, then pick up Atonement. Overall, it was fine, but it was not for me.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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I have five editions of this book (I know, so silly) and the above is my favorite. It is just SO PRETTY and it reminds me of a Fabergé egg.

Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.

I try to re-read AK every few years, and the story always impacts me in such a different way with each reading. Even though I know that, I am always a bit surprised by how a few years can make such a difference in how I feel about these characters. When I first read it in middle school I ADORED Kitty and thought Levin was the ideal adult. I truly thought the perfect grown up life involved a lot of ruminating in a field. Lord. Now I just want to shout at him to get out of the damn grass and GO GET YOUR GIRL.

I also had no empathy for Anna. I thought she was selfish and shitty. Now, Anna’s situation makes me both sad and angry, and the blame she carries alone for the affair is INFURIATING. She breaks my heart, and my resentment toward Vronsky compounds with time. Each reading increases my enjoyment of Oblonsky even though he is a total turd. Anyway, I love this book until the end of time, and Keira Knightley will be my forever Anna.

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