The Sea Before Us

Written by Sarah Sundin
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1944, Lieutenant Wyatt Paxton is in London as part of the US Navy team assigned to the Allied naval headquarters to assist with preparations for Operation Neptune, the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches. Wyatt works with a British Wren, Officer Dorothy Fairfax, in plotting maps and identifying landmarks on the shorelines where the Germans would establish defensive positions. These would be the initial targets for the naval bombardment. Dorothy has been marking the drawings using vacation photographs sent in by the public. One photograph, showing a family standing by a seawall and a two-story house in the background, intrigues Wyatt. Dorothy merely indicates that it is her own family’s vacation snapshot, and is coy about her background. Wyatt is more forthcoming and, surprisingly, he tells Dorothy and her father all the reasons for his nearly three-year estrangement from his two brothers. Although Dorothy and Wyatt are drawn closer, he fears that his war efforts might distress her.

This novel is the first of Sarah Sundin’s new Sunrise at Normandy series, her fourth series set during WWII. Her knowledge of that period, both of the people and the Allied forces, shines in the narrative. In addition to the engaging love story, the novel is full of interesting particulars, such as use of public photographs in planning the D-Day invasion, and the US naval tradition of addressing their officers as “mister.” Although the dialogue between the US servicemen has the usual type of banter, it’s entertaining to see their wonder at British customs and manners. Sundin has set up an attention-grabbing plot, and she masterfully includes historical facts into the storyline, such as the picture of the beach house (which is similar to the one seen in documentaries about D-Day) and the Germans’ “Little Blitz” on London in 1944. Readers will be informed and entertained.