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Little America by Zain Saeed: book review

“America isn’t what we’ve always dreamed it to be. Its is not the greatest civilization in the world- it is merely the loudest”

I remember watching a lot of Hollywood movies during my summer vacation. My parents often used to joke that it's not the conversation she is enjoying, it’s the cars and roads and malls that keep her hooked. That was partly true, that is how I imagined my perfect world to be. Clean roads, beautiful houses, cars, oh those cars, girls wearing shorts and not being worried of being judged or teased, having a position to speak for yourself, and it goes on and on. My idea of freedom was America in the movies. If only I ever understood that movies are often like propaganda tools, which showed me a very distorted image of the real country and make me feel bad, almost dislike mine. Everything seemed to be so much better and brighter, whereas mine was covered with dust, chaos, heat, and poverty.

Imagine a society so hierarchical in nature that the rule of the land is differently applicable on the basis of one’s position in the ladder. I am just kidding, you don’t need to imagine, we live and breathe in that system!

What if I don’t want to follow any of these draconian rules and backward tradition, twisted by fanatics and controlled with iron fists with the guardians of religion? What if I want to create a happy place where no one will be judged for who they are? I am expecting a lot? Why my idea of freedom and happiness is so impossible in my own birthplace?

Little America by Zain Saeed makes you cry and question again and again, what AZADI means to us, and how much price are we ready to pay for it. It's almost like being in shackles and only up to certain limit movements are allowed, that’s your freedom that society bestowed upon you. Any wants beyond that will make only you bleed and succumb.

Saeed’s Barkati is one of those “utterly dreamy” fellow, who dared to dream to live freely in a restricted city of Karachi. He dreamed of a place where one could live an “American way of life”. It's almost like asking for a philosopher’s stone in a conservative Pakistani society. As he waits for his death sentence, he writes a long letter, spilling everything about his life, “confessing” that he was indeed heady with his dreams, so much so that he forgot how his country hates anyone who dreams beyond the rules and norms. As a matter of fact, it's not about bashing the country for what it is, but it's more about how twisted the society is and how dark it can be when it comes to chasing a life beyond one means.

Reading 300 pages of this masterpiece made me realize how much I love reading south Asian books more than anything else because of the relativity and sense of getting understood by a fictional character. The connection that I build with Barkati will go beyond this book for sure.


Born in a Karachi slum, Sharif Barkati became obsessed with "American" ideas of love and freedom at a very young age. He began to dream of a public place in the city that did not follow the rules, where people would be free to say and do whatever they wanted under open skies, away from the conservative eyes of Pakistani society.

With the help of his friend Afzal - and TJ, an extremely wealthy Pakistani-American - Sharif was able to realize his dream in the form of a colossal compound on the Karachi coast, full of bars, cafes, clubs, and the people of Karachi strolling about, hand in hand.

They called it Little America.

Now in prison, Sharif tells the story of his life in a letter to his favorite novelist, hoping that he will turn it into a literary masterpiece. At once a rollicking journey around the mind of a man desperate to be free, an allegory of the neocolonial endeavor, and an investigation of the desire to emulate the perceived superior while desperately trying to hold on to one's own cultural identity, Little America asks the question: What, really, is freedom, and what can be sacrificed in its name?


Zain Saeed earned his MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) from the University of Texas at Austin, USA, where he taught courses on writing and American Literature, and was Editor-in-Chief of the Bat City Review. He is a practicing novelist, and his research interests revolve around race, writing pedagogy, language change, and literature in English. He is primarily interested in diachronic analyses of the language of racial discourse (academic and creative), particularly how this language changes the way we perceive members of other races via the creation of intergroup bias. He is also curious about the evolution of language in fiction on race and how it has reacted to a changing milieu.

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon

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