If you're a fan of historical fiction, you've likely read Beneath a Scarlet Sky — Mark Sullivan's wildly popular 2017 novel about an Italian teenager named Pino Lella who helps Jews escape the Nazis during the war. Forced to enlist in the German army by his parents, Pino ends up as the personal driver for a top ranking German commander. Sullivan's epic tale has earned more than 240,000 mostly 5-star ratings on Goodreads, and TV rights have been sold — with actor Tom Holland on board to play Pino.
Sullivan's next novel, The Last Green Valley, comes out May 4, 2021. Based on another real-life story, this one is about the Martels, a Ukrainian family who fled Europe during Stalin and Hitler's terrorizing reigns and began a long, arduous migration to freedom in Montana. Sullivan, a fantastic storyteller, spent time with the Martels’ descendants while researching the book, and even walked in their footsteps through Ukraine, helping him capture the drama and emotion of their journey.
This excerpt is an exclusive first look at Sullivan's much-anticipated next novel, The Last Green Valley.
It was sweltering hot. Adeline carried Will, almost two, in her arms, with almost-four-year-old Walt beside her. She was returning to their apartment from a shopping foray with little to show for the effort. As she walked, her attention roamed everywhere, still trying to learn the world order anew. A week before, the Germans had invaded and now occupied the city, and she'd only just learned that her younger brother, Wilhelm, had been conscripted by the Wehrmacht to fight the retreating Red Army. He was already gone.
There were rumors of other bad changes coming. Every night, out their open windows, they had heard shooting inside the city. But Emil said that life could be better for them under the Germans than it had been under the Russians. Was that true? She was ethnic German and spoke both Russian and German, but felt no ties to either country, and certainly not to Stalin or to Hitler.
"Mama?” Walt said. “It's too hot. I'm thirsty."
"We're almost home. We'll get water there."
"Can you carry me?"
"What will I do with Will?"
"Oh,” he said, looking downcast.
"Adeline? Is that you?” said a woman in a tremulous voice behind them.
Adeline, not recognizing the voice, looked over her shoulder and saw a desperate, frightened woman in her late thirties wearing a scarf over her head and peasant clothes. At first, she didn't recognize her. But then the woman shifted her head a bit, and Adeline did know her.
"Mrs. Kantor's friend,” Adeline said, smiling. “Esther.” It had been nearly eight years.
"Shhhh, I go by Ilse now,” Esther said, glanced around and then smiled at Walt and the baby. “Both your boys?"
Adeline thought it odd she'd changed her name but grinned. “Yes."
"A blessing for you. Mrs. Kantor told me about your first child. I'm so sorry."
Adeline felt a pang of sorrow. Five years now and she had come to believe the pain of losing Waldemar would be something she'd carry always. She hugged Walt to her side. “These are my precious gifts instead. How are you?"
Esther leaned forward, put her trembling fingers on the back of Adeline's hand, and in a whisper on the verge of weeping, said, “The Nazis are shooting Jews in Bogopol, just across the river, and I ... I need your help. Oh God, please, I have no one else to turn to."
In the pitch dark of the culvert almost three years later, with the bombs falling less frequently now, Will shivered in her arms and tore her from her memory. “I'm so cold, Mama."
Adeline called, “Emil?"
He called back, “The bombing is still going on, but it seems aimed somewhere else. I think we can get out. Lydia? Malia? Follow me."
"Thank God,” Lydia said. “I hate being in these things."
Adeline heard them start down the culvert. “Will, get off me and walk toward Oma."
"In the water?” he said, his teeth chattering.
Will climbed off her. She twisted around on one knee and then stood up into a crouch, the back of her head against the roof of the culvert.
"We're out,” her sister called.
"Go on, Will,” Adeline said. “Mama's right behind you. Walt, follow me."
A few moments later, they emerged from the culvert. They'd been inside thirty minutes. A new dawn was coming.
As Emil had sensed, the bombardment had not stopped but moved to the east toward the hillsides where the German troops were encamped, far enough away that her family seemed safe for the moment. Adeline grabbed up Will, who was shivering violently.
"Straight to the wagon,” she said, and with Walt started up the bank.
They'd no sooner gotten to the top and taken a few steps toward the wagon than she heard the whistles and whoomphs of artillery again, as if the Soviets were sending explosives in sweeps along the German front, with different ranges east and west. Another round could be coming their way any moment.
Adeline broke into a sprint to the wagon.
"Climb in!” she said to Will, lifting him. “Get in the back. Take off all your clothes."
"No, Mama,” he said. “I'm cold."
"Get in and take your clothes off!” she shouted. “I'm getting blankets!"
Adeline dropped to her knees. She heard planes now followed by more whistles and more blasts closer still to the south. The ground moved.
Walt screamed, “Mama!"
She grabbed the bedding, dragged it out, saw her older son pointing to the east where a wall of fire raged.
"I see it,” she said, trying not to panic. “Get in."
Walt clambered up onto the bench and took the bedding from her and threw it in under the bonnet. She got up beside him, only to feel the wagon lurch again.
Up until then, she had not seen Emil working the horses into their harnesses. She helped Will and Walt strip off the rest of their wet clothes and wrapped both boys in the blankets.
Will was bluish and still shivering. Another artillery round exploded closer than before.
"We have to go!” Adeline screamed at Emil. “They're shelling south to north. They're coming at us!"
Emil jumped up on the bench and grabbed the reins.
"Hold on!” he shouted, and then slapped the flanks of Thor and Oden. The big horses coiled and drove forward, hurling Adeline off balance. She fell to her side on pots and pans that bruised her ribs.
She groaned, looked up and out the back of the wagon, seeing Emil's father lashing at his horses with Karoline and Rese behind him under the bonnet, on their knees, holding on to the bench and terrified. Behind them, Malia was driving their mother's wagon, screaming at the top of her lungs and whipping the reins on her ponies’ flanks.
Mud flew. They skidded as the wheels floated in the grease. The wagon whipped violently one way and then another. Adeline was sure they were going to jackknife off the route. But Emil and their trusted horses countered the motion and fought through the wet ground on the far side of the creek bed before climbing onto more-stable ground. Artillery shells began to strike back where they'd been encamped, throwing shattered red and orange flames through the dawn.
Thor and Oden picked up their pace. They put distance between themselves and the barrage, five hundred meters and then a thousand. But other refugees in other wagons were on the move as well, streaming out of the woods to either side of the road ahead, and their speed slowed.
Will and Walt pulled the blankets over their heads and fell asleep. Adeline climbed onto the bench beside Emil. They glanced at each other and smiled. She reached out her hand. He took it and squeezed it.
"I'm glad you're so good with bombs falling around you,” he said.
She broke into a grin. “You're not bad yourself."
An hour later, they crossed a rise that gave them a view ahead where even more wagons were strung out along a fairly wide road that traversed a steep hillside. Some of the wagons farther to the west had veered off into the left lane. To their right and down the steep bank, there was yet another wreckage. Two wagons had become entangled, and they and their horses and humans had gone over, flipping off sideways and tumbling down the bank.
Men and women were running across the route and down the bank toward the wreckage. By the time the Martels closed on the scene, German soldiers had appeared and were keeping the wagons still on the route moving forward. As they got close, Adeline saw that amid the wagon debris there were crippled horses, dead bodies, and many others hurt and wounded.
She closed her eyes, tried to go far away to that mythical green valley in her mind, tried to see it with rainbows in a clearing sky after a summer rain. But a woman's agony intruded.
"Help me, please,” she called. “Please. Dear God, someone help me!"
She heard another woman saying, “We're here. We're helping as best we can."
Adeline opened her eyes and saw two women only a few meters ahead and to her right, on their knees on the road, and working on a woman who'd been brought up the bank. Her face was battered, filthy, and bloody. Both her legs were clearly broken. A bone stuck out of one shin.
"Oh God,” the woman groaned. “Help me, please! I have no one else!"
Adeline stared after the woman as they passed, hearing another voice utter similar words in her mind.
Excerpted from The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan with permission from the publisher, Lake Union Publishing. Copyright © 2021 by Mark Sullivan/Suspense Inc. All rights reserved.
Available May 4, 2021, at Amazon.com, Bookshop.org (where your purchase supports independent bookstores), Barnes & Noble (bn.com) and wherever else books are sold.
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