Refugees Longing for Redemption: A Review of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Sunset in Afghanistan

Since its release in 2003, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini has sold more than thirty-one million copies worldwide and has been translated into sixty different languages. The story has recently been adapted for the stage and opens January 10, 2017, at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London.

In light of the massive surge of refugees flooding into Europe, Hosseini’s story reflecting the Afghan refugee experience is still relevant today. According to a recent study by Pew Global, of the 1.3 million refugees who arrived in Europe in 2015, 193,000 were from Afghanistan.

A View from Inside the Refugee Experience

Like Khaled Hosseini, I grew up in Afghanistan in the 1960s and 70s when King Zahir Shah was in power. The country was markedly different then, before Soviet troops flooded over the northern border. They brought ten horrific years of war that caused more than six million refugees to flee the country.

Hosseini and his family were refugees and were eventually granted political asylum in the United States. Following the Soviet Union’s withdrawal in 1979, the people in Afghanistan continued to suffer terribly under more than twenty years of civil war and anarchy. In the midst of chaos, the extremist Taliban government seized power in 1996, bringing further devastation to the people of Afghanistan.

The Kite Runner takes place in the context of this historical backdrop. The story unfolds from the 1960s to the end of 2001. It highlights issues entrenched in Muslim cultures across Central Asia: honor and shame, truth and deception, class privilege and servitude, sin and evil, forgiveness and absolution, courage and redemption.

These themes are still relevant for those who want to understand the refugee crisis that continues to envelop so many Afghans. Hosseini’s novel invites readers to grapple with these complex issues from inside an Afghan perspective. An insider’s view is essential to disciples of Christ hoping to see God redeem culture through the good news of Jesus.

Is There a Way to be Good Again?

The title of the novel alludes to a traditional sport in Afghanistan: kite fighting. Competitors coat their kite strings with crushed glass shards before releasing their kites into the air. After a kite flyer cuts another competitor’s kite strings, the flyer’s “kite runner” chases the falling kite to redeem it for the victorious flyer. Although kite fighting creates the deep bond that exists between the Pashtun and Hazara boys at the center of the novel—a bond transcending traditional ethnic barriers—it is also the scene of tragedy.

The question at the heart of Hosseini’s novel, “Is there a way to become good again?” reveals a deep longing for salvation.

During a kite fighting competition, a cowardly betrayal by the novel’s protagonist, Amir, shatters the boys’ relationship. Tumultuous events in Afghanistan take the two boys beyond each other’s reach until a chance for redemption presents itself through risk and great suffering.

Amir’s shot at absolution brings him face-to-face with the novel’s most significant issue from a Christian perspective. An old family friend tells Amir, “There is a way to become good again.” The conversation gives Amir hope that it’s possible to make things right with God, with himself, and with his family. The search for redemption propels the story forward. The question at the heart of Hosseini’s novel, “Is there a way to become good again?” reveals a deep longing for salvation.

When Amir sets out to redeem himself by rescuing one for whom his actions caused enormous grief, a single statement of hope keeps resounding in his mind: “There is a way to be good again.” But even after Amir returns from his rescue mission, there is lingering brokenness.

Has he been made good again? It’s not clear. Alienation from God and others still pricks his consciousness until the end, painting an unfulfilling conclusion to the novel.

Finding Salvation in a Violent World

We all need to find a way back into fellowship with God. The question of how to become good again may be restated as, “How does one find salvation in the midst of a confused and violent world?” This question still swirls in the minds of the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees today.

We cannot make ourselves good again because salvation is not dependent on what we do, but on what God in Christ has done for us.

Decades ago, I saw the power of redemption when Afghans began responding to the gospel. God used the forced migration of millions of Afghans to points across the globe to bring many to salvation in Jesus Christ. And I believe he is using the current wave of refugee migrations to do the same. There are many who currently have the privilege of befriending Afghans and spending time with them studying Scripture. Afghan people are still searching for the meaning of life and the answer to the question, “Is there a way to become good again?”

The question of the source of salvation underlies all others. People everywhere are in search of meaning and significance for their lives in a confusing, sin-filled world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe that the only hope of true redemption comes through the perfect sacrifice that Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—made on our behalf through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave.

This is the message those longing for redemption need to hear from us: we cannot make ourselves good again because salvation is not dependent on what we do, but on what God in Christ has done for us.

Hope for Refugees Abroad and in the United States

In these days of crisis, there are great opportunities for the gospel to impact some of the most unreached people groups on the face of the earth. God is at work in refugee migrations. We dare not miss this opportunity. There are incredible openings for sharing the gospel with Afghans who have lived under a very restrictive religious environment. “It’s a counter-cultural moment for the church,” Ed Stetzer recently observed. “How could we sit out the greatest refugee crisis in history and still say that we love our neighbor?”

How You Can Help

Help meet the physical and spiritual needs of refugees by giving through Baptist Global Response to projects like the Oasis Center.

Get involved by reaching out to new refugees coming to our shores. World Relief—one of nine agencies officially approved to help with refugee resettlement in the United States—partners with 1,180 congregations to assist in the resettlement of refugees.

You may also like these related stories: A Call to Serve the Immigrants Among Us and 10 Ways to Pray for Afghanistan.

Also by Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns and And the Mountains Echoed

Jeremy Strickling is a community development worker who has served in places across Central Asia for more than twenty-five years. Afghanistan was home for fourteen years of his childhood and he graduated from high school in Tehran, Iran. He loves to read and to play chess and other strategy games like Francis Drake.

Editor’s Note: The Kite Runner includes several painful scenes, including the sexual assault of a child. The story depicts the deep psychological wounds that result from abuse of this kind. Although the assault is fictional, the violence portrayed is an excruciating aspect of the real experience of many living in this country. “Bacha bazi,” the abuse of boys by powerful men, is an ongoing tragedy in Afghanistan. Foreign Policy reports that as many as fifty percent of men in tribal areas of southern Afghanistan engage in pedophilia. This shameful tradition reflects the destructive effects of sin and spiritual brokenness that can only be healed by the gospel transforming lives. The book is not appropriate for young readers or for those who have been victims of sexual violence.