Land Beyond the Sea

Written by Kevin Major
Review by G. J. Berger

In late 1942 German submarines prowl the North Atlantic, all the way to the channels around Newfoundland. There, U-boat 69 has a deadly encounter with an ocean-going ferry, SS Caribou, transporting a collection of civilians and soldiers. Land Beyond the Sea presents the mostly true story of both vessels, the people on them, their backgrounds, and the aftermath.

The German side is told through the first-person account of 25-year-old U-boat commander, Ulrich. He’s a well-trained submariner, knows his men, and has no qualms about his mission. He is also a talented artist and carries a sketch pad wherever he goes. He cares deeply about his mother back in Dresden and falls in love with a nurse from Munich. He understands the madness and futility of the Nazis. Through Ulrich, we meet other German naval officers and experience his hometown on a shore leave visit.

Scattered through Ulrich’s story are third-person vignettes of the Caribou’s passengers and crew. We get to know the ferry’s captain and a variety of its passengers and stewards. In contrast, the first person focus on U-boat commander Ulrich makes him the most real and even likable character.

The details of the ferry, the U-boat, the two crews and ferry passengers all ring true. The war-time lives of Germans and travelers through Canada are vivid. Major has brought the real-life tragedies of war to each page with few surviving and no survivor unchanged. This story might have been more compelling if Ulrich’s intense first-person account had been set against a matching first-person account of one Caribou passenger instead of third-person vignettes of many.