Lea’s novel grew out of little known incident–Italian POWs were made to build barriers during World War II to protect the Orkney islands. During their time in the Orkneys, the prisoners built a beautiful chapel out of scrap metals and other left over materials.
In her version of events, the prisoners are brought to a mostly uninhabited island. Since the island has an eerie reputation, only two sisters, Con and Dot, live there. The pair have been isolating themselves to escape Kirkwall, the main island where both have suffered a terrible ordeal.
The sisters decide to work at the camp’s infirmary where Dot becomes charmed by one of the prisoners, Cesare. Though Con opposes the relationship, Dot and Cesare fall in love. Despite hardships and the cruelty of one of the guards, Angus Macleod, Cesare is granted permission to build a chapel.
The chapel plays a part in Dot and Cesare’s escape plans. While everyone is celebrating Michelmas, the POWs plan a diversion that may allow them Cesare to escape. Filled with bile, Angus, who despises Cesare, works to thwart their plans.
This is a haunting story about trauma, vengeance, sacrifice, and enduring love.
World War II – Building the Barriers – Orkney Museum (wordpress.com)