Sex, Drugs & Islam is the provocative and controversial memoir by Pakistani author, Dari Ghaznavi. In a conversational style, Ghaznavi tells tale of his time in the military, running drugs and other criminal activity, traveling the world, and, especially, chasing women. Despite its dark topics, the narration is breezy and spirited. Dari Ghaznavi really has lived a life like no other.
The title alone suggests that Ghaznavi is a man who takes chances and fears no one. Again and again, Ghaznavi puts himself in situations that would kill most people, or at least end up in an extended prison stay. That he is writing this memoir having been paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by an acquaintance should tell you this is a man who has lived, and lived hard. Through it all, Ghaznavi covers the highs and lows of his life with good humor. There’s not a lot of self-deprecation or judgment here. Ghaznavi doesn’t make any apologies.
Though a fast and entertaining read, there are some issues that do drag down the narrative. The book reads like Ghaznavi is regaling you with stories over dinner, which is part of the book’s charm. But at times, the memoir does suffer from some disorganization and unformed ideas. It occasionally skips from one time period to another very quickly and some of his thoughts about life are not fully explored.
Again, this is partly what makes the book riveting. Ghaznavi has been through so much that its like he’s desperate to get it all down on the page as quickly as possible, lest any of it is forgotten. One could make the argument that his breeziness is a playful narrative voice. True, but it could use some fine tuning.
One can’t review this book without pointing out that it is highly controversial, especially in this political moment. Ghaznavi pulls no punches in his criticism of Islamic culture, and Pakistan in general. On the one hand, it’s a fascinating window into a particular worldview. On the other, he’s playing with fire. That’s part of his story, however: his fearlessness. But there is a fair amount here that some could find offensive.
I know relatively little about Pakistani culture, and while this is obviously one man’s perspective, it is enlightening to learn about the culture from his insider’s point of view, albeit a very critical one. His scathing indictment of Islamic culture has less weight when he talks about The West being the bastion of everything that’s good. Especially when his main rallying cry for “USA, USA” is that the women are “looser.” This is a man’s book through and through.
All that said, as a portrait of a man who’s led an extraordinarily varied and interesting life, most any reader will find Ghaznavi’s memoir an eye-opening and page-turning read. He has done more in a typical day of his life than most people do in a year. Getting a small taste of that in this book makes for exciting reading, even when he’s not behaving especially well, which is most of the time.