5 stars for story
4 stars for narration
4.5 stars overall
I loved this. It's easily the best thing that has come out of Amazon Kindle First ever, and I'm so glad I picked it up.
This is a "novel" only because the author wasn't able to verify all the facts of the story that Pino Lella told him about his time in Italy during the last two years of the war. As it explains in the foreword, a lot of documents were "lost" after the war, and many people who lived through it chose not to talk about it and simply let it fade into history. Being unable to 100% verify every detail, the author decided to call it a novel, but it is a biography.
As such, I can't really critique this the same way I normally would any other story. These are real people and real events. There's no ultimate struggle of good vs evil (well, there is but as we all know, humans are complicated and things aren't always so black and white) and there are no tropes to rely on or subvert. This is just what happened, and it's both inspiring and infuriating.
Without giving too much away - and assuming you're not a WWII history buff and might know some of these details already - Pino Lella was seventeen when the war came to Italy, and in order to avoid being conscripted and forced to fight on the German front in Poland, where many Italians pressed into service were losing their lives, he instead "volunteered" to work for Operation Todt. All he knew about it was that it was less likely to get him killed and would keep him off the warfront. Things don't go as planned and he ends up in a prime position to work for the resistance, getting them valuable information that helped the Allied invasion.
For the first third of the book, things move pretty slowly. Pino is at first hidden in the mountains near the Switzerland border and helps refugees escape over the border. When his parents bring him back to Milan, things start to pick up and slowly get more complicated. And yet, things seem to almost go too well. Then the end of the war is in sight, and that's when things really hit the fan. The writing in the last third is especially strong and emotive, and I really had to work not to cry in the car as I listened to this on my daily commute.
As for the narrator, Will Damron, he takes the Kevin Costner approach to accents. I would honestly have no accent at all than to listen to a really horrible Italian accent, so I wasn't bothered by this. He does do a decent German accent though. He's very clear and easy to follow along with, and he reads at a good pace. At first, his narration was almost matter-of-fact, but he can really bring the emotions when it's called for. I would say for the most part, he's a 3 star narrator, but the ending was strong enough to bump it up to 4 stars. (And he's certainly popular with audiobooks, so he has his fans.) One thing he did do that annoyed me throughout was numbering the section breaks within the chapter, instead of just pausing for a few seconds like any other narrator would do. I never quite got used to it.