Picture in the Sand by Peter Blauner #NetGalley #eARCReview #HolyWar #Thriller #Post911World #MiddleEast #Terrorism #BookReview #HistoricalFiction #Egypt

“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. “

The only reason I can think that I requested Picture in the Sand (Amazon US) is that peripherally, it deals with the making of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments film. Because the book is unlike most everything else I read, but I found it pulling me in right away and was one of those can’t-put-down kind of books. I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy from NetGalley and Minotaur/St. Martin Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

The historical novel set mostly in Egypt during the early 1950s, just as Gamal Abdel Nasser is coming to power, following the collapse of the monarchy and revolution in the late 1940’s. At the core of the story is the clash of Western and Islamic cultures that both involves the reader in Egypt’s past and enlightens us with modern-day issues at the same time.

I can’t begin to describe how this book sucked me in from the start and kept me on the edge of my seat. The story the grandfather writes to his grandson is so compelling, it’s hard to break away from the book. There was the definite feeling of the grandpa trying to reach his grandson before he makes the same mistakes he made. The grandson’s letters to his grandfather show just how easy it is to fall prey to politics and radical thinking. The extremist views of the grandson are worrying not only to the grandfather but to the reader as well.

The torture scenes in prison were hard to read, but nevertheless I found them necessary to drive home the position the grandfather was in. I did find myself skimming them in parts. It’s easy to see how being swayed by a relative or close friend can have lasting effects for the rest of your life. Yet as the grandfather tells his story, you can feel the remorse drip off the page.

The involvement of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments production was interesting, and I was happy to read the postscript which took the time to tell the reader which parts of the story were real and which were the author’s imagination.

Highly recommend this book!

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