Cover Image: Picture in the Sand

Picture in the Sand

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Member Reviews

Love the premise of the book. I love the letters to the grandson, but was a little slow for my taste, but the storytelling was quite amazing. I think this book will get a lot of attention in the near future.
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Thank you Netgalley, St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books and Peter Blauner for free e-ARC in return of my honest review. 

Peter Blauner's Picture in the Sand is a captivating and thought-provoking novel that takes readers on a journey through time and across continents. Blauner weaves together the stories of two generations, exploring themes of family, identity, and the consequences of our choices.

The story centers around Alex Hassan, a young Egyptian-American who leaves his family behind to join a holy war in the Middle East. This decision shocks and devastates his loved ones, but his grandfather, Ali, refuses to give up on him. In a last-ditch effort to reach out to Alex, Ali shares his own life story through a series of passionate letters.

Ali's narrative takes us back to 1950s Egypt, a time of political rebellion and social upheaval. As a young man, Ali finds himself immersed in the world of Hollywood, working on the set of Cecil B. DeMille's iconic film, The Ten Commandments. However, his dreams of a glamorous future are shattered when he becomes entangled in a dangerous web of politics and espionage.

Blauner's writing is rich and evocative, transporting readers to the vibrant streets of Cairo and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood's golden age. The characters are well-developed and relatable, each with their own struggles and desires. The complex relationship between Ali and Alex is particularly compelling, as Ali's past mistakes serve as a cautionary tale for his grandson's present choices.

One of the strengths of Picture in the Sand is its exploration of the intergenerational impact of history and personal choices. Blauner skillfully connects the political turmoil of 1950s Egypt to the post-9/11 world, highlighting the cyclical nature of conflict and the importance of understanding our past to shape our future.

Overall, Picture in the Sand is a beautifully written and engrossing novel that will keep readers hooked from beginning to end. Blauner's ability to blend history, family drama, and suspense makes for a truly compelling read. Whether you're a fan of historical fiction or simply enjoy a well-crafted story, this book is a must-read.
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Picture in the Sand by Peter Blauner, an amazing epic novel of a grandfather's, Ali, heartfelt letters written to his rebellious grandson, Alex. Trying to demonstrate to Alex, Ali tells of his misspent youth, not painting a positive picture, letting him know not to follow his own youthful adventures.
Ali's story is of his political rebellion in the 1950's Egypt. He was a movie fanatic, lands his dream job. The Ten Commandments had begun preparation for filming. Cecil B. DeMille needs an assistant. It's Ali! Through his letters, Alex learns new found family history of Ali's times in Egypt, with Nasser, enmeshed in global intrigue and spying. I particularly enjoyed the communication between Ali and Alex of such love and mutual respect as well as the Egyptian history of the times! A great story!!
I highly recommend this outstanding novel as told through old and youthful eyes!!
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This was a truly very extraordinary story. I enjoyed reading about the historical parts of it. I enjoyed the fact that it blended fact and fiction, and I would recommend this book to anybody and everybody who is interested in history. I really think everyone should read this book it is that good.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.
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I love books that revolve around grandparent-grandchild relationships! I have mostly read of granddaughter-grandmother relationships (The Mountains Sing, The Lost Souls of Leningrad) and more recently, The Theory of Crows involved a grandfather and granddaughter. It feels great to see another similar-but-different relationship. My Amma, paternal grandmother, wrote letters to me, and Gedo (Alex’s grandfather), Ali’s letters to Alex reminded me of her. She passed away in 2020 and reading Gedo’s tale, I wonder what her life story had been like, the event or situation that changed her life and got her where she did. She did not get a chance to tell me about her young days and I was glad to experience such an exchange between Ali and Alex.

It’s been decades since Ali has told anyone of his time before America. Watching Alex grow and his parents struggle with him, he has been pondering telling Alex about his life but he doesn’t know where to begin – how to create an opportunity to share a time of deep personal upheaval. When Alex decides to take part in the holy war in the Middle East, Ali can’t help seeing his young self in his grandson and hence has the chance to share his life story. As terrible as the situation was, Alex is right where Ali had been decades before. He hopes that in reading his manuscript, Alex would reconsider his actions and worldview, and hopefully come home safe.

Ali was a common man with more education than the average young man in Egypt in the 1950s. He wasn’t happy with the state of his country and he had a dream to make it to America one day. He didn’t know how in his early twenties but he was always on the lookout. When he got offered a job to work as the assistant to the great director Cecil B. DeMille on the set of his epic film, The Ten Commandments, he knew it was his time. Little did he know the obstacles he would be facing.

When first introduced, Alex comes off as a young head-strong man who was committed to his faith. He has embraced their doctrine with a new commitment and as Ali shared his life story, Alex judged him for every action and criticized him openly for each mistake. Alex took on his new identity by renaming himself. He is now Abu going forward. When Ali first appeals to him to read his manuscript, Abu is flippant. He will read but he wants a short answer. Can’t his Gedo just tell him what he wants him to learn from the tale? He felt he was being forced to read, though it was his choice (whether conscious or not), to continue to read and write back.

When we are alone, where no one knows us, it makes sense to hold on to one last thing from our past. It’s a connection to our identity, a possible way back home should we need it. Gedo is that lifeline for Alex, even though he doesn’t know it for the longest time.

There is suspense, thrill and betrayal in Picture in the Sand. There are also deep family bonds. Read about roots, belief and identity portrayed in this book on my blog.

Picture in the Sand kept me interested until the very end. I quite enjoyed it, finishing it within three days! This is a story about two people – grandson and grandfather – connecting for the first time, as adults and as humans. I recommend it to all avid readers of historical fiction and those who enjoy a tale about Egypt.
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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.
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Picture In the Sand by Peter Blauner is an epic story, and it took awhile to digest and enjoy the picture the author painted of the era of 1950s Egypt.

Alex Hassan has his life in front of him. A product of an immigrant family, his grandparents came to America from Egypt, he has been accepted into an ivy league college and has a bright future. But then he disappears to be a fighter in a Holy War in the Middle East. He refuses to communicate with his family, but because of his affection for his grandfather, he agrees to listen to the story his grandfather will slowly share with him via email. He had always seen his grandfather as a kindly old man who ran a gas station. He begins to learn that he and his grandfather have more in common than he realized.

Young Ali's story starts in 1950s Egypt, where he is lucky enough to get a job as a driver with Cecil B. DeMille, who is there to film the epic movie, The Ten Commandments. It seems Ali has everything he could want, but things quickly go awry. This will lead Ali to very dark places, as there is a struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood taking place during this era.

Can older Ali tell his story to his young grandson and keep him interested enough to engage him, and not have him disappear off the internet?

This is a very compelling story. While I very much enjoyed the 1950s storyline, and all the accurate details the author brought in about the exciting filming of The Ten Commandments, I very much enjoyed the interplay between grandfather and grandson. At first the grandson shows all the arrogance of someone who thinks they have all the answers, sort of the hallmark of a religious fanatic of any persuasion. I think the author does a really good job of painting his personality during this period. But slowly the grandson is confronted with some pretty horrific things, and we begin to see the kinder and more normal aspects of his personality.

I really enjoyed this book, both for its historical depiction of this turbulent time in Egyptian history, and for the relationship via email between these two Alis.  Highly recommended.
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I enjoy a good book about revolution and Picture in the Sand is that. I could’ve done without the inclusion of the making of The Ten Commandments- I felt it added nothing to Ali’s compelling story. But sometimes a story needs a  good bring things together.
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Ali Hassan's grandson Alex decides to move overseas and join a terrorist cell as a holy warrior in response to post-9/11 world events. In an effort to save his beloved, Ali writes a series of letters that share the story of his involvement in political rebellion in 1950s Egypt. The story also details Ali's participation in the filming of Cecil B. MeMille's The Ten Commandments. The revelation of a grandfather's secret past inspires Alex to continue his activism until the story takes a turn that motivates him to leave his newfound lifestyle. 
I appreciated the insight into Egyptian life and history from the 1950s. And the film history was interesting, too. I didn't feel mesmerized by the storytelling, though. And the ending is too neat and tidy for my preference.
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A story set in two times as a grandfather relays a story to his grandson in order to show him that he does understand the grandson's choices and tries to offer guidance to him. The narration of the grandfather talks of the contentious political atmosphere in Egypt during the filming of the 10 Commandments movie. The grandfather was at the center of the movie filming and the political upheaval.
I felt the story moved slowly. I only held out because I wanted to know what ultimately happened with the grandson because the rest seemed somewhat predictable.
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Entertaining historical fiction about an era and culture that I have not read about frequently.  I enjoyed the structure of this novel - shifting between past and present, tied together with letters between a grandfather and his grandson.  It started a little slowly but ~1/2 way through I was invested in the characters.  Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Peter Blauer’s fictional story of Egypt in the 1950’s speaks through a grandfather’s emails to his grandson. He is trying to save his grandson from seemingly repeating the mistakes that he himself made as a young man a whole world away. Of course the grandson sees that his elderly grandfather must not understand the modern world that he is now living in. No one knows the entirety of the grandfather’s story until he feels compelled to tell his grandson.

Now, we, the reader are along for the ride as Egypt is thrown into turmoil after turmoil from one regime to the next and the people of the county struggle to define sides and decides who they will follow into the future. It is not only the future of Egypt that hangs in the balance but the grandson, who has become wrapped up in his own battle with the holy war.

As a child of a family who left Egypt in the 60’s, I remember hearing stories from my father of the beauty of Egypt before the regime changes began. The days of his youth were filled with cosmopolitan cities that are not easily found any more. I remembered his love of taking me to the cinema to watch Aladdin and Genie of the Lamp or Saladin and Voyage of the Seven Seas. He would watch The Ten Commandments with me on TV and his favorite film was Fiddler on the Roof. Reading about the grandfather in Picture in the Sand and his love of the cinema brought my father’s memory back to me.

As my father grew old, his mind would wander to the days when neighbors were from every country and people lived joyfully. He always wanted to tell my children about his days of Egypt, but as with the grandson in the novel, they only saw his as an old man who didn’t understand the modern world. They loved him as any grandson would love his grandfather but they were too busy. I wish there was time for them to hear his story. Who knows what they would have learned?
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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.
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The core of this story was interesting, but some of the execution was lacking. For starters, Picture in the Sand starts with a frame narrative that I hated. College graduate Alex has been indoctrinated into a terrorist cell and he is emailing his grandfather about how his family will never find him. His grandfather had randomly suspected this might be a problem way back when Alex was younger and decided to write his life story -which he has never told anybody, even his son, Alex's father- and just kept on the off chance it would one day be relevant exactly to Alex's life. Sure. 

I don't love this, but to get a story going, sure. But what I really didn't like is every single email from Alex throughout this story. What a one note, unrealistic, mouthpiece of a "character". So Alex's grandfather emails him the file for the book, and every few pages, Alex stops reading to email his grandpa again about what he's read so far. It's THE DUMBEST EMAILS. I would have much rathered little interludes where Alex just *thinks* about what he's read before, but his emails are the worst part of this book. It'll be like: 
*actual story* "so I met a girl, and she was beautiful." 
-email "wait, so this is grandma? I totally understand why you think you wanted to tell me this, but I am still not coming back, you'll never see me again, take care of yourself, I'll still read more when I have time though. 
~three more pages take place, another email ~

I'm exaggerating but it's hard to explain just how jarring and ridiculous I found these emails. And the past-Grandfather story is supposed to be teaching Alex lessons, and so we get emails about his life too,'s just a very unnuanced portrayal of why people join terrorist groups. It's basically "white rich people are bad...wait, maybe they aren't ~all~ bad?!" 

Anyway, onto the actual meat of the story. It was decent. It revolves around a film shoot in Egypt from the film Ten Commandments, Grandpa Ali is hired to work on the film and has dreams of being a successful actor. He sees Yul Brenner and Charles Heston and all these big movie stars and is swept away in the magic. But his brother recruits him into a terrorist sect that wants to use the spotlight of the big film to do something to make a statement. Ali feels drawn to his brother's cause, but doesn't want to make trouble. The crux of this story is good, although I think this section of the book could have used another ~50~ pages, because the book was pretty short. The ending of the book was okay, but I was left wanting a bit more from it all. 

I switched between audio and physical and the audiobook was very good. I probably would have DNF'd otherwise.
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This book really just took me for a ride. I loved the build up, the character development, and the writing. I would definitely read more from this author!
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A St. Martin's Press ARC via NetGalley.
Many thanks to the author and publisher.

This book is incredible. You can tell that the author spent time researching and painted a vivid Picture in the Sand. Every chapter you want to keep finding out about Ali and Alex. I highly recommend reading this and I feel sorry for the next books of this year that have to follow this one.
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Peter Blauner’s “Picture in the Sand” is a relevant and timely tale about the dangers of radical extremism, and the bonds of family. This intergenerational saga alternates between the emails of young Muslim American, Alex, and his grandfather, Ali, who describes his past as a young man working with Cecil B. DeMille, in Egypt, during the making of The Ten Commandments. A novel 20 years in the making, “Picture in the Sand” is a worthwhile and fascinating read for fans of historical fiction.

Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books for providing the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
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a moving story that will capture your heart. past meets future when Ali has to reveal his past to save the future of another. a wonderful read.
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This one was a bit of a struggle to rate - 3 stars is a stretch.  While I enjoyed Ali's story, I loathed his grandson, and although his character really only had a small part in the story, it was large enough to really detract from Ali and his story.  And as much as I enjoyed a fair amount of the book, I truly struggle to understand how this book took 20 years to write.  Based on the reviews, I'm clearly in the minority, but this book just wasn't for me.
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Picture in The Sand is a good page-turner. It is part suspense and part drama. 

It does a few things well. It not only takes you to the set of the Ten Commandments production (a big chunk of the book focuses on around the filming of the movie and shortly after) and shows you this fictional set, it also transforms you to 1950's Egypt. The author's attention to detail with the setting of this story is apparent. 

The author, stealthily, educates you about the country's complicated political history. I very much appreciated it. The author (a former journalist) clearly did his research well. 

Now the drama in the book became too much at parts and I could have done without the torture scenes in the prison. So just know it gets graphic in a couple of scenes but they are skippable. 

I initially had a tiny issue with the story with mostly Muslim characters being written by a non-Muslim, non-Middle Eastern author. But as I read it I didn't find anything overtly wrong or distasteful with the way these characters were portrayed.
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