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Picture in the Sand

Now available in paperback

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.

Book Trailer


“With the magic only the finest storytellers can summon, Blauner has conjured a tale where epic reality—the making of Cecil B. DeMilles The Ten Commandments—is woven into a story of adventure, suspense, mystery, love, sorrow, assassination plots, prison breaks, and deep appreciation for the movies. I found this impossible to put down. An authentic tour de force, the kind you lay aside to read again.”
—Stephen King
“This is historical fiction at its absolute best—heartfelt, anchored in real events and extremely well told.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review (full review)
“Shrewd and revelatory…A politically fascinating saga that bulges with vividly drawn characters and acute attention to the ever-shifting sands of events in the Middle East.”
Deadline (full review)
The Economist (full review)

“Great storytelling, a coming-of-age tale with a love story at its heart…. A gripping, hard-to-put-down thriller.”
Kirkus Reviews (full review)

“As gripping as any fiction being written today…dazzling.”
— (full review)
“A different kind of epic than The Ten Commandments, this novel focuses on Ali showing his love for and belief in his grandson by giving him not a tablet of principles but a story of human triumph that goes beyond Hollywood artifice.”
Library Journal, Starred Review (full review)
“Powerfully illustrates the intensity of a young man’s yearning to be part of a larger cause.”

“Transports readers completely into a different place and time. It is not only fascinating but also heartbreaking and heartwarming.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Gripping… Part historical epic, part love story, part inter-generational family saga, Picture in the Sand asks important questions about home, ambition and what is truly worth fighting for.”
Shelf Awareness

Picture in the Sand is a fast and absorbing read that will make you yearn for a Cairo you never knew you missed.”
Forbes (full review)

“Expertly paced storytelling, memorable characters—and a pointed examination of aberrant ideology.”
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star (full review)

“This is escapism with a solid political and historical base, which makes it an irresistible read.”
The Globe and the Mail (full review)

“Peter Blauner made six trips to Egypt over twenty years. His preoccupations, he’s said, are ‘faith, hope, terror… and movies.’ This novel expresses them all, and at the highest level.”
—Head Butler (full review)

“Peter Blauner skillfully brings to life post-war Egypt while perfectly blending in the intricacies of Cecil B. DeMille’s making of The Ten Commandments….There is so much about Picture in the Sand that makes it well worth reading. It is powerful, profound, and thought-provoking. Peter Blauner has created a truly unique reading experience. Highly recommended.”
Fresh Fiction (full review)

“Blauner’s epic is a triumph, a story within a story, and a Bible story within a movie. It manages to meld a clear-eyed view of modern-day terrorism with the incredible true life history behind the making of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments in Egypt. His characters rise from these pages not as the types they could be in lesser hands, but as individuals―flawed, irreducible, doomed by their historical time and limited consciousness―all too human. In the end, Picture in the Sand looks at the mess in front of us and behind us, and affirms, like Scheherazade, that stories can save us.”
—David Duchovny
“I have a huge TBR pile. There’s still nothing better than just opening a book and finding a great story. It was my lucky day to pick up Picture in the Sand. I agree with Stephen King and Dennis Lehane. Great book!”
—Bestselling Author Kristin Hannah
“Peter Blauner takes a fascinating moment in cinema history as the starting point for a richly imagined, propulsive and timely novel about the intersection of Western hubris and Middle Eastern reality. Caught in the middle are a set of vividly drawn characters whose ideals and ideologies are challenged and who make choices that reverberate through their lives in powerful and moving ways.”
—Marisa Silver, Author of Mary Coin and The Mysteries
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