In 2014, Egyptian-American Alex Hassan leaves home, without giving his family many details, to join a jihadist uprising overseas. Trying desperately to get through to his grandson, Alex's grandfather, Ali Hassan, decides to share a long-held secret: his account of his experiences as a young man, working on the movie set of The Ten Commandments and getting swept up in political forces larger than himself. Picture in the Sand, the gripping ninth novel from Peter Blauner (Sunrise Highway; Proving Ground; Slow Motion Riot), traces the shifting relationship between grandfather and grandson as Ali recounts his adventures a half-century ago.
The brief, affectionate e-mails between Alex (who has renamed himself Abu Suror) and his grandfather provide an excellent framework for Blauner's main narrative, which begins as Cecil B. DeMille and his crew arrive in Egypt to film The Ten Commandments. Alex's reactions to Ali's experiences, and his perspective on his own situation, change dramatically throughout the novel, as Alex learns his grandfather's story (and experiences life with a jihadist group). Meanwhile, Ali's opinion of the visiting foreigners, as well as his other relationships--with his father, his cousin and the girl he loves--also change drastically as political events develop in Egypt. Blauner's narrative explores the complexities of life in Egypt at that time, taking readers from the prime minister's office to remote desert locations and glittering hotel bars. Part historical epic, part love story, part intergenerational family saga, Picture in the Sand asks important questions about home, ambition and what is truly worth fighting for. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams