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Picture in the Sand

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Peter Blauner's epic Picture in the Sand is a sweeping intergenerational saga told through a grandfather's passionate letters to his grandson, passing on the story of his political rebellion in 1950s Egypt in order to save his grandson's life in a post-9/11 world.

When Alex Hassan gets accepted to an Ivy League university, his middle-class Egyptian-American family is filled with pride and excitement. But that joy turns to shock when they discover that he’s run off to the Middle East to join a holy war instead. When he refuses to communicate with everyone else, his loving grandfather Ali emails him one last plea. If Alex will stay in touch, his grandfather will share with Alex – and only Alex – a manuscript containing the secret story of his own life that he’s kept hidden from his family, until now.

It's the tale of his romantic and heartbreaking past rooted in Hollywood and the post-revolutionary Egypt of the 1950s, when young Ali was a movie fanatic who attained a dream job working for the legendary director Cecil B. DeMille on the set of his epic film, The Ten Commandments. But Ali’s vision of a golden future as an American movie mogul gets upended when he is unwittingly caught up in a web of politics, espionage, and real-life events that change the course of history.

It's a narrative he’s told no one for more than a half-century. But now he’s forced to unearth the past to save a young man who’s about to make the same tragic mistakes he made so long ago.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published January 3, 2023

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About the author

Peter Blauner

42 books178 followers
Peter Blauner (b. 1959) is the Edgar-winning, New York Times bestselling author of nine novels, including SLOW MOTION RIOT and THE INTRUDER. A native of New York City, he apprenticed under famed newspaper columnist Pete Hamill and first broke into print as a journalist for New York magazine. His books are detailed, character-driven crime novels that have attracted a devoted cult following. His newest novel, PICTURE IN THE SAND, due out in January 2023, is his first work of historical fiction.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 217 reviews
Profile Image for Marilyn.
809 reviews236 followers
January 20, 2023
Picture in the Sand by Peter Blauner was a gripping and suspenseful historical fiction novel that was partly about Egypt’s turbulent history during the 1950’s. The social and political upheaval Egypt and its people faced in the 1950’s was portrayed in great detail in this book. Picture in the Sand also explored the presence of modern day terrorism and extreme Islamic beliefs in a post 9/11 world. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Pictures in the Sand was the arrival of Cecil B. DeMille in Egypt where he hoped to film the movie of The Ten Commandments. Even though I have seen the movie of The Ten Commandments several times over the years since it was first released, I never imagined all the political restrictions, precautions and occurrences that happened during the production of the film. It was a time of regime changes, assassination attempts and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ali Hassan grew up in Cairo, Egypt as a respectful and bright Muslim boy. Both of his parents worked in one of the larger hotels in Cairo. Ali’s mother worked as a housekeeper and his father was a golf caddy for the rich and affluent guests. His mother and sister had died and so it was just Ali and his father looking out for another. After Ali’s mother and sister died, his father took to drinking a little too much. Ali had been bright enough to go to university. He had always been interested in films and sometimes even wrote reviews for some of them. Some of Ali’s fondest memories was going to the movies with his mother and sister. When Ali learned that Cecil B. DeMille was coming to Egypt to film The Ten Commandments, Ali thought of nothing else but wanting to work for him. Ali’s father was able to pull a few strings and ask one of his rich clients to get Ali an interview with Mr. DeMille. With a little fabrication to his resume, Ali secured the position of Cecil B. DeMille’s personal assistant and driver. Ali was over the moon with excitement! This experience would change the course of Ali’s life in ways he never could have imagined.

Alex Hassan was Ali’s American born grandson. Ali had immigrated from Egypt to the United States. It was now post 9/11. Ali could not have been prouder of his grandson, Alex. He had recently found out that Alex had been accepted to an Ivy League university. What could be better than that? He was a very proud grandfather. Alex had other ideas though. One day, Alex sent an e-mail to his family that informed them that he had chosen to travel to the Middle East and had joined the Holy War. Alex had also changed his name to Abu. His e-mail informed his family that they couldn’t change his mind about what he was doing. Alex would not be able to communicate with them very often. He explained that he would use encrypted e-mail addresses to let them know that he was doing okay. He could not tell them where he was. Alex’s family was distraught about the choice Alex had made.

Learning about the path Ali’s grandson had chosen to follow broke Ali’s heart. Ali saw so much of himself in his grandson. Their lives were more connected than either had known or realized. Ali shared the book about his life growing up in Egypt during the 1950’s with his grandson to try and influence his decisions. Over many e-mails, Ali divulged things to his grandson that he had not spoken about to very many people. Some things Ali told Alex were painful and embarrassing for Ali to recall. Ali’s goal was to dissuade his grandson from making some of the same mistakes he had made when Ali was also young and idealistic like his grandson. It was frustrating for Ali, to discover that his story was having the totally opposite effect on his grandson. Could Ali’s story prevent Alex from making similar mistakes that his grandfather had made all those years ago?

I really enjoyed reading Picture in the Sand by Peter Blauner. It was a sweeping multigenerational saga that was told through an exchange of emotional and passionate e-mails between grandfather and grandson. Picture in the Sand was fast paced, well plotted and impeccably researched. I loved the characters in this book and admired Peter Blauner for his excellent storytelling. Picture in the Sand was about family, love, sorrow, death, mistakes, trust, assassination plots, prison, spies and terrorism. It was well written and well plotted. Although this was the first book that I had the pleasure of reading by Peter Blauner, I will definitely look forward to reading more books written by him. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Minotaur Books for allowing me to read the digital version of Picture in the Sand by Peter Blauner through Netgalley in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.
Profile Image for Kasa Cotugno.
2,356 reviews455 followers
November 8, 2022
Well told and original, Picture in the Sand reveals much more than promised. Ali Hassan, long a grandfather and bodega owner in BayRidge, carries on a correspondence with his radicalized grandson who has taken off to join Isis. He fills in his backstory, about working for Cecil B. DeMille during the filming of The Ten Commandments, a film that continues to be shown at Easter over 60 years later. What I found most interesting wasn't the fictional thriller hung on the real events or even the absurdities surrounding the filming of that movie, but the account of the political activity of the conflict between Egypt and the newly minted Israeli state, the emerging power of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Peter Blauner has researched extensively, creating a believable picture of Egypt under change, and in Ali, a believable character.
Profile Image for eyes.2c.
2,440 reviews50 followers
November 29, 2022

Amazing piece of writing that brings together a radicalised young Muslim from the US post 911 and the story of his Egyptian Muslim grandfather in Egypt in the 1950’s during Nasser’s rise to power, coinciding with Cecil B. DeMille’s filming of the Ten Commandments.
Alix’s grandfather, Ali Hassan writes to Alix (now Abu Suror meaning ‘father of joy’) about his fate, his journey during those years. How he regained a faith he’d lost, not through radicalisation, but through circumstances that lead from a step away from repudiation of his religion to an acceptance of things. The miracle of love during this time comes slowly. His grandfather had been writing about his life over the years and he was now sharing it with Alix.
A family drama that has legs and captures a vast array of reasons why people do things, people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, the power of belief and commitment, the disappointment of being given a cause only to find the empty truths, political expediency, money—all are described.
Grandfather’s time in prison is diabolical and yet must be endured. The coming together of a Jew and Muslim, when what’s demanded by your torturers is a step too far. The scenes with Raymond Garfield in prison, a Jew, were harsh and poignant.
Gripping in its intensity, I was drawn in. I literally felt the sand and heat of Egypt in my nostrils, and shook my head over the making of the movie, the Ten Commandments at a time when the political situation in Egypt was on a knife’s edge.
And Alix? His grandfather’s writings speak to his heart.

A St. Martin's Press ARC via NetGalley.
Many thanks to the author and publisher.
Profile Image for theliterateleprechaun .
1,229 reviews29 followers
December 6, 2022
This is a meat and potatoes book! It took a long time to digest this one and formulate my thoughts. Knowing that the author took 20 years to write this book meant that I slowed down and gave it the attention it deserved. I felt like I had a masterpiece in my hands.

It’s about a young Egyptian movie fan, Ali Hassan, who dreams of coming to the States, changing his name to Al Harrison and living out the American Dream. He’s so close to reaching his dreams when Ali gets caught up in the unimaginable and gets his dream of freedom taken from him. When he’s given the chance to refocus and try again, he works towards reimagining it. And it works, sort of. Ali’s life comes full circle when he’s given the opportunity to guide his grandson who has thrown away his privilege to embark on a dark journey. This cautionary tale is unique because it’s a historical fiction book framed around a contemporary story.

Things to know before reading:
✔️intergenerational saga
✔️deals with political rebellion in Egypt in 1950s
✔️based on true events
✔️written over 20 year period
✔️research took the author to Egypt 6 times

The author does an exemplary job of exploring the events of 1954 Egypt and showing that they were crucial to the development of modern terrorism. In pulling together the threads of hope, faith and terror, Blauner has penned a story that transcends time and has universal appeal. Seventy years later, the message still moved me. We are all yearning for freedom and there’s a little of Ali in all of us.

They say hindsight is 20/20. After finishing this book, I agree.

I was gifted this copy by St. Martin's Press and NetGalley and was under no obligation to provide a review.
Profile Image for Ann.
165 reviews51 followers
February 28, 2023
This novel consists of the correspondence from a grandfather (an Egyptian who immigrated into the United States as an adult) to his grandson who has left the US to become a jihadist in an unknown location in the middle east. The grandfather relates the story of his life as a young man in Egypt during the 1950’s, during which time he was fascinated with film, particularly American film. He managed to work his way into a support position to Cecil DeMille while DeMille was filming The Ten Commandments in Egypt. Many things are described, including some “inside” views of movie making. However, the real theme is the way in which politics and religion interacted at that time, and the way they both deeply affected the every day lives of Egyptians. Our hero (the grandfather) experiences the terrible and often unintended effects of the quest for religious (Muslim) power versus the military/governmental power. There are also bits of correspondence back to the grandfather from the jihadist grandson, and we watch as he, too, experiences religious fervor and its effects. This theme is ancient and ever present. Both the grandfather and the grandson do finally find some peace. I really enjoyed the parts about life in Egypt at that time as well as the always present strife between religion and military government. For me, the parts about the movie were not quite as well done and not as interesting.
Profile Image for Beary Into Books.
659 reviews41 followers
January 23, 2023
Woah. I didn’t know what to expect before reading this one. This book will give you so much to think about. Get ready to go on a rollercoaster of emotions as well as thoughts. My mood definitely changed a lot while reading this one. I really want to get into it but honestly, I think you should just give it a try without knowing anything. It’s definitely a book that everyone needs to experience on their own. Every reader will go on a different journey. The author did such a fantastic job creating a story with such well written and complex characters that deal with real life issues. Highly recommend this one. Wish I could say more but I think it’s better if I don’t.

Thank you so much for the gifted copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews654 followers
April 7, 2023
I really enjoyed the audiobook version of Picture in the Sand. The story was a series of emails between Alex, a radicalized young Muslim, and his Egyptian Muslim grandfather; Alex reluctantly sharing his secret adventures in the Middle East after turning down his Ivy League education acceptance to participate in the war. The grandfather, the only person Alex agrees to communicate with, agrees to reveal his past that has been kept hidden from everyone in the family until now, with the hopes of encouraging his grandson to return home. The grandfather’s past occurred during Nasser’s rise to power and it coincided with the making of the Cecile B. Demille film, The Ten Commandments. Author, Peter Blauner combines real historic events with the imagined, from 1950s Egypt, controversial politics and the making of the Hollywood film, to romantic encounters, physical dangers and prison time. This dual timeline historical fiction book was well researched and has copious details.

Blauner’s school friend and fellow writer, actor David Duchovny described this book as a masterpiece. It took Blauner 20 years to write and research included multiple trips to Egypt.

If you enjoy Hollywood, history, religion, Egypt and an incredible family saga, this book is for you!
Profile Image for Blue.
140 reviews5 followers
October 10, 2022
I love the idea of a grandfather writing letters to his grandson. The grandfather soon learns his grandson is stuck on idealism. He's feeling that he knows how to conquer this thing called life. All Alex needs is a distance from his family. Both will learn lessons from one another.

Peter Blauner writes about Egypt in a stunning way there are the Palm trees, the pyramids and the Sphinx. Why not read about those classic movies again or see a few? Remember Cecil B. DeMille? If not, take a chance and meet him. The Egyptian activists have their reasons for hating him. The book is grand.
Profile Image for Martie Nees Record.
674 reviews137 followers
December 2, 2022
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: Jan. 3, 2023
Martie's rating: 4 1/2 Stars

“Picture in the Sand” is an intergenerational family saga fused with an in-depth examination of the roots of radical Islam. The novel connects surprising dots, such as those between modern-day Egyptian terrorism and the making of Cecil B. DeMille's “The Ten Commandments,” a film I’ve been watching for sixty years. Only upon reading this novel did I learn how DeMille’s telling of the Exodus helped deteriorate the relationship between Western and Islamic cultures. Multilayered throughout, the story punctuates moments of familiar comfort with graphic violence.

An Egyptian immigrant, Ali Hassan, rejoices when he receives the news that his American-born grandson, Alex Hassan, has been accepted to an Ivy League university. Instead of attending college, however, Alex sends his family an email telling them he is changing his name to Abu and leaving to fight a holy war in the Middle East. The details of Abu’s radicalization, which I found myself wanting, are left to our imagination.

In Egypt, Abu only communicates with his grandfather. We learn that in the 1950s, under his cousin’s influence, Ali transformed from a movie fan working as one of Cecil B. DeMille's assistants to a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Through the young Ali, the author shows how such organizations can corrupt a young person’s mind. Impressed by Ali’s past, Abu’s commanders allow for the correspondence. But impressing terrorists was never Ali’s goal. In his letters to Abu, the author shines, nimbly portraying Ali’s attempts to dissuade him.

As an old movie buff, I enjoyed reading about the makings of the film. Now I need to research whether DeMille was as unlikable as portrayed here. Detailed descriptions of the pyramids, the Sphinx, and the massive Egyptian set where Charlton Heston slips in and out of character while dressed as Moses reveal the author's eye for detail. As a typical American, I think in terms bad guys versus good guys, just like in DeMille’s movie. So I sometimes struggled to follow the intricacies of inter-Egyptian turmoil after the end of British rule.

“Picture” is entertaining and educational, which is everything a historical novel should be. All but the conclusion felt genuine, which is my only issue. Explaining would be a spoiler. It leaves much to discuss regardless. I still highly recommend reading the novel. If you do, please share how you felt about the ending with me.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

1 review
August 24, 2022
I loved this book because the main characters are so well developed and complex and appealing. The historical setting is a character too that enriches the understanding of the characters’ motives and their perceptions of the world.
This is a story of love and redemption and the political and personal choices we make. The novel is basically epistolary, alternating in time. In a series of chapters a grandfather describes his youth in 1952 Egypt and his experience with the production of an American movie, as well as with ascending local radical ideologies. His experience mirrors that of his college age grandson who, in 2015, after he sees his American father mistaken for a terrorist, is radicalized and leaves America to join with Muslim terrorists. As he reads his grandfather’s story he writes emails in response.
The main characters fall into three groups: the American youth Alex (who renames himself Abu Seror) and his grandfather the Egyptian Ali Hassan; Cecil B. DeMille, the movie mogul, the documentary filmmaker Raymond Garfield and the stars of the movie; and the Egyptian leaders Nasser and Naguib. The action occurs against the backdrop of Nasser’s rise to power in a Middle East still smarting from the long British occupation, the 1948 defeat by Israel, and a desire to reassert a more militant Islam. Ali describes it as both a “hopeful” and “volatile” time. Then Cecil B. DeMille arrives in Egypt to film, “The Ten Commandments.”
Movies permeate the story. Ali has been in love with American movies most of his young life. In college he formed the Student Cinema Society to rent and distribute films. He has reviewed movies. He dreams of moving to America and being in films. Ali’s father, a golf caddy for a premier hotel, uses his influence to get Ali a job with DeMille’s production. Ali is almost immediately promoted to driver for Mr. DeMille, and in his first trip he drives through a street with demonstrators and accidentally hits and kills a religious scholar. DeMille and his friends, fearful of the crowd and wanting to avoid responsibility tell Ali to drive away. This act inflames the Ikwan, or Muslim Brotherhood, who know the driver was Ali and the passengers were DeMille’s men. Nasser, who does not know who hit the scholar threatens DeMille if any of his staff is responsible. They remain silent.
There are the expected cultural misunderstandings as Ali drives DeMille and the actor Charlton Heston (Chuck) to Sinai, and that lend some comic relief.
There are so many vivid minor characters like Mona, the Coptic young woman, and daughter of a minor French actress and an Egyptian diplomat father, who wants to be an actress and whom Ali loves. When she is swiming he compares her to the actress Esther Williams. Another is Professor Ibrahim Farid, a teacher of literature and culture at Fuad I University who encouraged Ali in his writing. He was fired from the university and had become a leader of the Ikhwan. He warns Ali away from working for the Americans who he feels are simply portraying Egyptians as the villains.
As DeMille’s movie is being shot in Egypt, the author describes so well the cacophony of massing of thousands of extras and their animals in the days before CGI and cinematic tricks.
The story then turns darker as Ali, who tries to offer DeMille suggestions on how to film his movie, loses his job on the production only to regain it later but in a lesser role. In the meantime his slightly older cousin, Sharif, who has become a devout Muslim and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, tells Ali that the Brotherhood knows of his involvement in the death of the Iman and expect his help in return for not turning him in.
Ali debates with himself as to whether to turn himself in for the automobile accident or become more involved in the Muslim Brotherhood. Eventually he says, “I wanted a role. I wanted to fight. I wanted to be part of something bigger than the life I was living.”
Ali tries to become more devout and radical, but it isn’t in his sensitive nature. When he realizes that the Brotherhood are planning to create a massive explosion during the filming of the chariot race he is horrified and tries to warn DeMille and others of the danger.
The result is that he is captured by the police and taken to prison where he is beaten and tortured. A former Nazi doctor ruthlessly pokes out his eye with a cigarette. It is in prison that his relationship with the Jewish documentary film maker Raymond Garfield is developed. Ali had been resentful and jealous of Mona’s interest in Garfield and does not like him. Garfield is an outsider and the novel’s tragic figure. Born in Germany he immigrated to the US, served in the army during WWII but never actually got his citizenship. He is accused of being a spy, but like Ali he does not want to see people hurt. When he is told to beat Ali he refuses and is badly beaten himself. Later, when Ali asks him why he had taken the beating, Garfield says, “Don’t turn your back on a friend.” Garfield is well aware of how atrocious the Nazi’s were to the Jews, and he relates how he fought in the war but was too late to rescue his father from a concentration camp. There is animosity between the Jews and the Arabs but in prison they are all the same, all beaten and tortured.
After one torture session, to take his mind off his pain, Garfield asks Ali to describe a movie he has seen, and he chooses “The Thief of Bagdad.” Ali relates the film in detail and afterwards Garfield says, “I asked you to take my mind somewhere and so you did. I felt like I was back at the Delphi Filmpalast with my father, watching Douglas Fairbanks ride the magic carpet in the silent version. So I thank you.” For both men the experience of watching a movie brings happy memories.
When the prison is set on fire, Ali gives up a chance to escape because he senses that Allah is protecting and directing him. He returns to the cell he shares with Garfield, now nearly dead from all the beatings and torture. He asks Ali to repeat the Kaddish. After Ali says the Kaddish for Raymond he thinks, “Probably he just didn’t want to be alone in the end. He wanted someone to see him, so the memory wouldn’t just be lost and forgotten like a picture in the sand.” Later he says that Garfield was his friend. In returning to his prison cell and to Garfield Ali is redeemed.
Ali and Alex are basically good people who are swept up by the political events of their times. As the grandson reads his grandfather’s story his own life reflects a similar arc. Like Ali he is drawn into a radical ideology and religious zealotry but is appalled by the planned violence. Like Ali he despairs when a young man he befriended is tortured and killed. Like Ali he turns away from the violence and accepts jail time. Later Ali writes, “I do not regret anything—not losing an eye, not failing to escape during the fires, not even the seventeen years of my life spent in prison, when I consider that beam coming through that sooty window and the path it illuminated through the long corridor of decades.”
Ali serves out a seventeen year sentence without bitterness. He thinks, “In the modern world, belief is always a choice.” The ending is a happy one. Mona has waited for him. He reflects, “She had chosen me, and this was a miracle even greater than the parting of the Red Sea.” He immigrates to America and becomes a successful small businessman. And every Easter he and Mona watched “The Ten Commandments” on TV.
Profile Image for Nursebookie.
2,053 reviews318 followers
March 6, 2023
Picture In The Sand
By Peter Blauner

I rarely read books about the Egyptian American point of view and the historical context of the story. I found this book by Peter Blaunder irresistible and highly entertaining read. The story is centered about a young man named Alex Hassan who leaves America and his successful life to join the holy war in the middle east.

Through a dual timeline, we learn about Alex's grandfather's story which was kept from the family all these years.

This was such a well written work of fiction in my favorite genre.
Profile Image for William de_Rham.
Author 1 book29 followers
October 17, 2022
I tremendously enjoyed “Picture in the Sand,” Peter Blauner’s historical novel set mostly in Egypt during the early 1950s, just as Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power. It is a powerful story about the clash of Western and Islamic cultures that entertains and enlightens. Even though most of the action takes place some 70 years ago, the issues it treats are still very much with us.

The novel begins in 2014 with an email from young Alex Hassan to his Egyptian family living in New Jersey announcing that, instead of attending Cornell University, he has gone to the Middle East to join the jihad. His grandfather, Ali, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1971 and accrued a goodly portion of the American dream, writes back to dissuade him. Thus begins a correspondence between grandfather and grandson that reveals the story of Ali’s own experiences with Egyptian politics, the Islamic faith, and the filming of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” It’s a story that Ali, for some reason, has never told before.

Author Peter Blauner does a great job intermingling his fictional characters with the actual events and people of the times. Nasser, DeMille, Charlton Heston, and other famous people make more than cameo appearances. (It turns out that Mr. DeMille was not quite the kindly old gent he portrayed himself to be in “Sunset Boulevard,” at least, not in Mr. Blauner’s hands). And cinema buffs will enjoy going onto the sets of “The Ten Commandments” built in the Egyptian desert. Mr. Blauner’s eye for detail and powers of description bring to life those colossal sets teeming with a cast and crew of thousands, not to mention hundreds of exotic animals.

But it is the conflicts that Mr. Blauner’s characters experience, both internally and externally, that really make the novel. Will young Ali pursue his dreams or sacrifice them in favor of what he believes is right? Will he choose Hollywood crassness and materialism or Islamic extremism? Will he support a Jewish filmmaker he neither knows very well nor likes over his cousin and best friend, a staunch Muslim? And will grandson Alex forever forsake his country and family in favor of jihad? These are just some of the conflicts that kept me reading late into the night.

Author Stephen King calls “Picture in the Sand” a book that reminds him of why he “fell in love with storytelling in the first place.” Such high praise is richly deserved. Congratulations to Mr. Blauner on a terrific novel.

My thanks to NetGalley, author Peter Blauner, and publisher St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books for providing me with an electronic ARC. The foregoing is my independent opinion.
Profile Image for Lilisa.
413 reviews59 followers
December 13, 2022
The book is set in 1950s Egypt against the backdrop of political upheaval - King Farouk was overthrown by a group of army officers led by Mohamed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, subsequently followed by the power struggle between Mohamed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser. The story is told from the point of view of 85-year old Ali Hassan in the present day. His grandson Alex Hassan has left his family in the U.S. to join the fight in the “holy war.” By sharing his story during Egypt’s political turmoil in the 1950s via e-mails with his grandson, Ali hopes to persuade Alex to return. That time period coincided with the filming of the movie The Ten Commandments. The book was not the “sweeping intergenerational saga” as described in the book summary. It was about a grandfather and grandson’s lives, the latter a very small sliver though. The majority was on Ali’s early adult life. It was hardly “sweeping.” It was focused on a narrower space in time, and around the filming of the movie and just after. The book didn’t have that steeped in sense of place and time that one finds in historical fiction done well. It was limited here. Alas, the characters felt flat and I was not wowed by the writing - it was too simplistic and plain. For me, the elegance, flow, complexity, and seduction of the language is as important as the storyline and character development in a book. Overall, the book felt like it skimmed the surface, rather than digging deep into the culture and history of a country so rich in both. I appreciate that the author spent years on writing this book. However, I was disappointed. Not to take anything away from the obvious labor of love, but this book was not for me. I hope others enjoy this book more than I did. Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,561 reviews11 followers
January 8, 2023
This is a magnificent book and I find it hard to put it into words how much I was affected by it. I wasn't all that interested at first when I saw it on NG but a couple of people read it and said I should give it a try. So I did and I am so glad I took the chance.
Ali Hassan is a grandfather trying to save his grandson from being lost to Isis post 9/11. His letters to his grandson are the story of his life, his dreams, his losses and the making of the epic movie The Ten Commandments. It's the story of Egypt's political shift in the 1950's and so much more. It's an amazing book and one that should be a must read. It's that good.
My thanks to the publisher Minotaur and to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for AndiReads.
851 reviews75 followers
October 15, 2022
Hold on to your seat! Get ready for a blockbuster of a book!

In Picture, we learn that Alex Hassan has fled his American home to Syria instead of starting his college days at Cornell. His Egyptian American family is shocked and do not know where to turn. His beloved grandfather reaches him via email and shares a manuscript he has written about his life. It's not long before Alex responds and both he and all of us (the readers) are thrown in to the world of Egypt in the 1950's when Alex's grandfather Ali is on the set of the new movie for Cecil B. DeMille. Ali is pulled in many directions as a new Egyptian government is forming and pressure from his cousin to join a more conservative and religious sect that . There are many parallels between Ali and Alex's story - you will be on the edge of your seat until the very last page!

I have never read Peter Blauner, but I will look up his books now, Picture in The Sand is a fantastically original story that employees all of the great techniques that we look for in our favorite movies - there's stars, romance, adventure, family obligations and of course spies, war and politics. If you love a book about Egypt or movies (or both!), love a book about family, or just want the next blockbuster book to thrill you, Picture In the Sand is for you! #StMartinsPress
Profile Image for Jenna Reimann.
16 reviews1 follower
October 1, 2022
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. Thank you for my ARC and a chance to review it before it's on the shelves. Alex's character development made me happy and there were a few times during the read where I was sad, happy, angry, and annoyed. This story deserves to be read.
6 reviews
November 27, 2022
This is the kind of book James Michener and James Clavell used to write. It really takes you on an adventure to another time and place. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Louise.
621 reviews89 followers
January 6, 2023
It took me a little while to get fully invested in this story, but once I did, I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. Essentially, this is a grandfather’s story of his life as a young man in Egypt during the filming of The Ten Commandments in 1954, in the middle of political turmoil, as told in emails to his grandson, who has left the US to join an Islamist group that we eventually realize is ISIS. I didn’t know a lot about this time in Egyptian history and so I wound up learning a lot. You also find out a lot about how a movie is made on location, all the myriad things that go into creating a huge movie like The Ten Commandments.

The grandfather’s journey from being a young Western film aficionado to how he winds up working as a driver for Cecil B. DeMille during the filming of the parts of The Ten Commandments filmed in Egypt to his being caught up in the political turmoil of the day and how he winds up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is quite a story.

Warning: there are some graphic scenes of torture and references to other disturbing events.

Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for the opportunity to read an advance readers copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Sandi.
330 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2023
An interesting story with adventure. The narrator, Sean Rohani did a terrific job with the various characters' accents. I enjoyed the setting of the story and how the author tied it to the filming of The Ten Commandments. The back and forth between Grandpa Ali and Grandson Alex was clever. It took off well but kind of bogged down a bit midway, but overall an entertaining read with a nice ending.
Profile Image for Debra.
113 reviews
December 24, 2022
It’s been a long time since I read a great story saga. Pictures in the Sand by Peter Blauner is such a tale. Spanning generations, this story entwines you in the lives of Alex and his grandfather, Ali. Ali tells the story through letters to his grandson who ran off to join the modern holy war. Ali tells his grandson of a young man who was enthralled with movies, a man who ends up in prison and lost an eye and an old ailing man that never told anyone the story until now. The story is filled with family, loyalty and war.

Ali, in love with movies, gets a job with Celil B. DeMille while he is in Egypt making the movie The Ten Commandments. The Muslim Brotherhood targets the production, Ali finds himself in the middle and ends up in prison for 17 years.

ALi is telling this story in order to save his grandson from the same fate. Does fate repeat or does Ali reach Alex in time. The back and forth letter writing makes this book a great, great story.

Thank you Netgalley and Macmillian publishing for the chance to read this book.

Family saga, generations historical fiction
Profile Image for Chris.
198 reviews4 followers
December 11, 2022
I loved this book. I don't know where to start describing it as it is unlike anything I've ever read before. Ali wants a future in film and applies to help take part in an Moses themed movie produced by Americans in Egypt. Along the way you learn about Mona the love of his life while understanding his culture. Intertwined in his history is his desperate need to inform and protect his grandson from extremist groups he used to be a part of. I loved how many historically accurate facts were used and learned about Egypt's staple, Koshary.

Wonderful book and I'm great full to have received an early copy for review.
Profile Image for Star Gater.
1,192 reviews37 followers
January 6, 2023
Thank you NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for accepting my request to audibly read and review Picture in the Sand.

Author: Peter Blauner
Narrator: Sean Rohani
Published: 01/05/23
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

Right away, reading the first chapter I knew this was not for me. By the end of the third chapter I contemplated not finishing it. My question: Is there a line between finishing a book you have agreed to review and knowing you don't like the book and finishing it?

The narration was okay.

I think it's a writing style, its dry and simple, and I just cannot get into the story. There is communication between a grandson and grandfather that drove me batty.

The genre classification, the beautiful cover, and the blurb regarding storytelling appealed to me. Unfortunately, this was a miss. Maybe it was written for you.
164 reviews6 followers
December 8, 2022
Picture in the Sand is about a relationship through emails between a grandfather and his grandson. The grandfather tells his story growing up in Egypt in the 1950's and then emigrating to the US. He never shared this with his family. The grandson becomes radicalized and leaves the family for the middle east.

I enjoy reading historical fiction though I have not ready any that takes place in Middle East. The relationship between grandparent and grandchild tends to be a different type and love than between parent and child. The grandfather's guidance is from a loving and knowledgeable place in the heart.

I am happy that I learned about this book and would definitely recommend it.

Thank you, NetGalley, publisher, and author for an advanced copy.
Profile Image for Kaitlin.
444 reviews21 followers
November 21, 2022
This was a very, very good book! I enjoyed reading the story of Ali Hassan as he shares his 1950’s adventure in Egypt (the movie set of The 10 Commandments! political unrest! young love!) with his grandson Alex who has left his family in the States to participate in a holy war. The tale is thrilling and heartbreaking, and I’m so glad I took a chance on this book that Stephen King calls “a book that reminds me of why I fell in love with storytelling.”

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. “Picture in the Sand” releases on January 3rd, 2023
Profile Image for Jonas Saul.
Author 91 books356 followers
September 22, 2022
(Note: I was offered an early copy from St. Martin's to read and review. The book releases in January, 2023)

Peter Blauner’s Picture in the Sand is an accomplished novel of great skill and craftsmanship. The characters leap from the text to become people you walk among page after page, the story a movie playing out in the theater of the mind. An emotionally gripping tale, with the highest of stakes, raising tension to untold levels—and all related through a unique style—a novel of emails. To say I was blown away by this outing would be an understatement.
Profile Image for Diogenes.
1,339 reviews
October 22, 2022
Picture in the Sand is everything one could want in a book. The characters are fully fleshed, empathetic and very interesting. The plot is both thrilling and poignant, presented in an original and addicting style. The story, while based partly on historical events, is real and believable. This is as close to a masterpiece as one can find in modern fiction.
Profile Image for Petal.
18 reviews1 follower
May 7, 2023
I was enchanted by this cover and I've heard great things about the author, so I gave this a go via interlibrary loan. I am so glad that I did!

Largely set in Egypt, this novel has a semi-epistolary format, grandfather and straying grandson, who has clearly made a big mistake, exchanging emails. Grandfather's first email consists of the 'book'. It's a tale of the major event of his young adult life, which is shockingly similar to the grandson's mistake. The story itself is riveting and the characters believable, and much of it really brings to life a different era. I can't pinpoint why I take a single star from my rating, other than to say that it's just a feeling. This story is really something. My biggest complaint is that I didn't have the time to sit and read it in just one or two sittings! I'd highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction.
Profile Image for Sharon May.
1,768 reviews18 followers
January 5, 2023
Many thanks to NetGalley, St Martin's Press/Minotaur Books and Dreamscape Media for gifting me both a digital and audio ARC of this beautifully-written book by Peter Blauner and wonderfully narrated by Sean Rohani - 5 stars!

In the form of letters written to his grandson, Alex, Ali Hassan tells Alex about his own past, hoping to persuade Alex to come home. Alex had been accepted to an Ivy League university when he left home and refused contact with his parents, instead taking up with a radical Muslim group fighting what they consider to be a holy war in the Middle East. Ali tells Alex about his time as a young man in Egypt with his eyes on a movie career in Hollywood. When Cecil B. DeMille comes to make The Ten Commandments, Ali gets a job as an assistant. However, he unwittingly gets involved in political unrest, threatening his and his family's lives.

This was such a fascinating read - Ali's letters tell of a time of political turmoil and how easy it is to be persuaded to do the wrong things, while we alternately read Alex's letters to his grandpa showing him following a similar destructive path. As one who always watched The Ten Commandments on Easter, I enjoyed reading about the making of the film and the portrayal of the actors and director. All of these characters in this book are so well developed; I felt so much for them. I also loved the relationship between Ali and Alex, a connection so different from a parental one. Ali was desperate to get Alex to learn from his mistakes, but did it in a way that let Alex find his own way back. Highly recommended - a blockbuster of a story!
Profile Image for Peg Tyre.
1 review
November 9, 2022
If you like old movies, sweeping romances, family sagas, or books about political intrigue, you will love this book. It has glamor, suspense, longing, and love. And all these elements are deftly combined in a page-turner set in Egypt during the filming of Cecille B. DeMille's iconic 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments. The characters are movie stars, battle-scarred filmmakers, revolutionaries, and earnest young Egyptians trying to make sense of both their ancient history and the modern world. What makes this book so readable and appealing is that even though I had nothing in common with any of the characters, they were all completely relatable. They are funny, flawed, and very human. Also, you cannot predict the plot -- by the third page, I sensed I was in the hands of a skilled and original storyteller. And I was right. The book is an unforgettable journey. As the chapters flew by, innocence was lost, ambitions were thwarted, dreams were upended, hearts were broken, and ultimately, youthful idealism was forged by harsh experience into something more durable. By the end, these characters felt like old friends. And the uplifting conclusion will remind you of the power of our shared humanity. This book is outstanding.
Profile Image for Michelle.
58 reviews
January 26, 2023
This story took a very long time for me to get into. But it is a beautiful story that reminded me why I love reading.
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