Reviews

A powerful, heartbreaking story of an American woman seeking redemption after exploiting a photographic moment in an Afghani village. Jeannée Sacken’s artistic gaze is unflinching as Annie Hawkins’ tale plays out against the perilous backdrop of the war in Afghanistan. Swift-paced, with deft characterization and crosscultural savvy, this vivid novel is an absorbing read.

~ Shauna Singh Baldwin, author of What the Body Remembers, The Tiger Claw, and The Selector of Souls

I dare you to read the first chapter of Behind the Lens and put it down. It can’t be done. Before you know it, you are in for a great ride all the way to the end. Jeannée Sacken’s writing is that good.

~ Judy Bridges, author of Shut Up & Write!

When photojournalist Annie Hawkins Green returns to Afghanistan to teach photography at her best friend’s school, she’s haunted by memories of a deadly Taliban ambush. After several close calls, Annie wonders: are these ghosts or is the Taliban hunting her down? Not only does this story take readers on an adventure Behind the Lens and into Annie’s life, it transports them to the heart of Afghanistan and into a battle for equality, freedom, and justice. This riveting new debut from Jeannée Sacken will keep readers turning pages until they reach the satisfying ending.

~ Rochelle Melander, writing coach and author of Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing, writenowcoach.com

From page one of Behind the Lens, Jeannée Sacken plunges her readers headlong into a foreign and often hostile culture—total immersion. With every turn of the page, the tension slowly ratchets up to its explosive ending. Jeannée Sacken’s main character, war photographer Annie Hawkins Green, allows the reader to hitch a ride to Afghanistan in her camera bag. And it is a hair-raising ride beginning to end. If Annie doesn’t find trouble, trouble finds her. Add a touch of romance and Behind the Lens will top your list of unputdownables.

~ Jennifer Trethewey, author of the Highlanders of Balforss series

From the moment Annie Hawkins Green slaps a piece of duct tape with her identifying information on her flak jacket, the reader is thrust into the exciting and dangerous world of a photojournalist who covers conflict zones. Annie is courageous and resourceful— racked with guilt and plagued by PTSD. She’s a good—though flawed—mom and a good—though flawed—friend. And that, I think, is what I love most about Sacken’s writing: she creates multifaceted characters in high-stakes situations, and she never resorts to the “easy out.” In Behind the Lens, Jeannée Sacken reminds us of the steep human cost of war and the deep human connections that can be forged there. This book will stay with you long after you finish the final page.

~ Kim Suhr, Director of Red Oak Writing and author of Nothing to Lose

Behind the Lens by Jeannée Sacken is the story of Annie Hawkins- Green, war photographer, who is determined to return to Afghanistan to fulfill her vow to a young girl who died in her arms years before. Annie’s journey to teach photography at her friend Darya’s school for girls in Wad Qol is filled with conflict, secrets, and lies that create a danger to friends and family. All intricately entwined with the culture of the country, it’s a story you’ll savor from beginning to end. So, make yourself comfortable because you can’t put this book down.

~ Roi Solberg, author of The Caretaker and Spirit of Archetypes

Behind the Lens is an unbiased exploration of the struggles women face from a patriarchy system in society, religion, education, and profession. Jeannée Sacken writes a poignant and riveting work of art with vivid characterizations and honest dialogue, pulling readers inside her landscape. Her book reveals prejudices, ignorance, and intolerance inherent in mores and customs that favor men and withhold opportunities from women. To overcome these controversial differences, she shows us how sincere and forthright communication is necessary for successful mutual understanding and respect.

~ Heba Elkobaitry, Cultural and Sensitivity Consultant

Behind the Lens by Jeannée Sacken is a superbly written novel, with intertwining threads, including violence and terror that are everpresent in a country that has experienced the same for centuries, and intrigue and duplicity worthy of the best of the international spy thrillers. Anyone interested in examining other cultures will also appreciate the accuracy with which Sacken presents many of the complexities of a country with a mix of cultural traditions, all of which are contending with—in sometimes violent ways— their own interrelationships and the inescapable involvement with modern, Western society. Readers will be eager to know when the sequel will arrive.

~ Myles Hopper, author of My Father’s Shadow

In Behind the Lens, Jeannée Sacken introduces us to Annie Hawkins Green: photographer, activist, and mother. In this hard-to-put-down story, from the war in Afghanistan to the war with her teenage daughter, Sacken takes us into Annie’s world and keeps us rooting for her from beginning to end.

~ Carol Wobig, author of The Collected Stories

Release date
March 9, 2021
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Excerpt

The perfect golden light from this morning is long gone. I’m dealing with dead, flat gray, and deep dark shadows. I meter and press the shutter. Then, I kneel in the sand and capture an image of Malalai looking down at me—sharp features, a strong girl. Unexpectedly, her eyes light up, and she kneels next to me. Using her index finger, she haltingly swirls letters in the sand, then looks at me. Through the viewfinder, I see the pleading in her eyes.

But I don’t read Pashto at all, much less the word Malalai is scrawling. My finger freezes on the shutter. Malalai is writing. Pashtun girls in remote villages don’t write. Under Taliban rule, they weren’t allowed to learn to write or read. Education for girls still isn’t allowed in many areas. But Malalai is most definitely writing.

I come up onto my feet and frame the shot: Malalai hunched over her letters. Her face tips up toward me. The word below her just visible. This time when I click the shutter, my fingers begin to tingle. The world drops away, and I’m in my moment, the place I feel best.

Fighting the darkening sky for some light, I shift my position. Malalai doesn’t move an inch, but her eyes follow me. Another click of the shutter. This is the shot.

I’m moving a little closer to the tree, when I hear a crack in the distance. I snap the shot just as Malalai’s left hand jerks into the air and she collapses facedown in the sand. Bright crimson begins to flow from her left temple, down her battered cheek. A second crack, and a bullet rockets into the tree next to me.