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Pär Lagerkvist, Barabbas

Just this morning I finished my fourth or fifth reading of Pär Lagerkvist's Barabbas, which remains one of the finest novels it has ever been my pleasure to read. Barabbas is the condemned thief whose life was spared by the angry mob of Jews who were given the choice of pardoning either him or Jesus Christ, with the latter thus being sent to his crucifixion. In Lagerkvist's vivid imagining, Barabbas is a faithless man who still finds himself drawn to Christ - whose crucifixion he witnesses, as well as the rolling-away of the stone from his tomb on Easter morning - and his followers.

Yet despite his attraction toward these devout people, from a disgraced peasant girl to his fellow slave Sahak, Barabbas can never bring himself to believe. And just as these early Christians suffer persecution and death for their faith, Barabbas suffers his own inner persecution as he drifts through life as a complete outcast, cut off from both proper society (for being a slave) and from the Christian community (much of which unfairly blames him for Christ's death). In Rome, this isolation brings about an impulsive, delirious act which unwittingly bonds him to a local Christian sect that seals their collective destruction.

As the book ends, Barabbas might - or might not - finally have an epiphany, at last perhaps finding the faith he has wanted for so long. Fortunately, with his lean, understated prose Lagerkvist leaves unanswered whether or not Barabbas has truly found faith, leaving the reader pondering the question long after the last page is turned and the book has been closed. Barabbas is a riveting meditation on religious faith which speaks simply yet conveys the deepest of meaning.

April 6, 2010 in Books | Permalink


Was this the novel that won him the Nobel Prize?

Posted by: Paul Lamb at Apr 7, 2010 5:42:51 AM

Technically speaking, no, because I believe the Nobel actually recognizes an author's complete body of work instead of a specific title. But effectively, yes, Barabbas is probably the book that clinched the Nobel for him.

Posted by: Pete at Apr 7, 2010 11:16:59 AM