Peter Blauner took actual historical events which took place in Egypt during the 1950′s and wove them into a time tripping novel that is as gripping as any fiction being written today. His book is “Picture in the Sand” and the novelist Stephen King was so impressed by it he wrote: “On rare occasions I read a book that reminds me of why I fell in love with storytelling in the first place. This is such a book.”
The prologue to the story consists of emails written in 2014. In the first one Alex, a young man in New York, is informing his mother he is leaving to join Islamic radicals at a secret location. The second email is a reply that was sent to Alex by his grandfather Ali imploring his grandson to keep in touch with him.
Alex reluctantly consents to remain in contact after his grandfather suggests he wants to tell him a story about something that happened to him when he was his grandson’s age and still living in Egypt. Then we begin to read extended flashback sequences as Ali recounts his tale while his grandson replies whenever he is able to do so.
As Ali begins his account Egypt’s King Farouk has recently been overthrown in a coup by some military officers. Cecil B. DeMille is about to arrive on the scene to begin filming his epic movie ‘The Ten Commandments’. Ali is hoping he can find employment with the filmmakers.
DeMille meets with Gamal Abdel Nasser, a military officer who overthrew the first leader installed after the coup. DeMille made arrangements with people who were no longer in charge so he finds he suddenly has to negotiate all over again with Nasser. Nasser becomes prickly.
Meanwhile the Muslim Brotherhood is plotting to assassinate Nasser. This ongoing turmoil provides the shifting backdrop for Ali’s story of how he had begun working for DeMille as his driver when Ali’s cousin, a member of the secretive Muslim Brotherhood, gets a job working on the movie set as well.
At the end of many of the chapters of Ali’s accounts of that period his grandson will reply with his reactions to the story. He’s initially sympathetic with the radicals who wanted Nasser killed but as the story develops and his own personal situation changes his views become more nuanced.
DeMille’s final film was a massive production. The film’s star Charlton Heston arrives. The author sticks closely to what actually took place on the movie sets. The Brotherhood already botched one Nasser assassination attempt so Sherif, the overzealous cousin, wants to try again, blowing up the set during “this great big Exodus scene, in the daytime.”
Alex is reading his grandfather’s account and begins to realize that like Sherif, he too has been held in a death grip by fanaticism. Will Alex survive? What became of Ali as DeMille’s production was on the verge of detonating? Check out Peter Blauner’s dazzling novel to find out what transpired.
Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.