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A book by Par Lagerkvist

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Tracing the footsteps of death

  • Aug 25, 2005
This short novel by Scandinavian Nobel Prize winner Par Lagerkvist fills in a little hole left open by the Bible; specifically, what happens to Barabbas after the crowd chooses to crucify Jesus and spare his life. The book begins with Barabbas being freed. He is in a state of bewilderment, and something within him leads him to follow Christ to the cross, where he witnesses the death. Afterwards, he tries to pick up the pieces of his life and wanders through town. By coincidence, he encounters some of the 12 apostles at a small cafe without knowing who they are, though they know who he is. When he discovers their identities, he is somewhat drawn to them yet repulsed by their poorly-concealed anger. In quick succession, he witnesses the stoning of a female friend, works as a laborer on a wealthy estate, and travels to Rome. There he sees Rome burn down around him, discovers that this was done on orders of the emperor to be blamed on the Jews. He is captured along with some Jews (some of whom he recognizes from Golgotha) and killed.

The story is easy to read, yet delivers a very strong emotional impact. The different individuals Barabbas encounters are shown as very human, with faults and frailties that make the reader empathizes with them. The apostles that Barabbas meet are not Biblical heroes in any sense of the word, but grieving friends who wrench their hearts to try and not bear ill-will towards him. The various Roman soldiers and officials are shown as all too human; some cruel, some sympathetic towards the Jews and others apathetic.

The theme of death is pervasive throughout the book, as it starts with the death of Christ and ends with the death of Barabbas. Death seems to follow Barabbas at every step. He somehow feels this, but does not try to run; he has nowhere and noone to run to. Nearly all the people he meets end up dying; often at the hand of others. As such, the book not only portrays a man, but a society that places little value on life, less than that placed on money, law, order, revenge, honor, etc... Death is truly inescapable in the life of Barabbas, and he comes to realize near the end of the book that it is not how or when you die, but what you die for, something Christ tried to show him and everyone else at the beginning of the book.

In all, one of the best books by this Nobel Prize-winning author. This English translation is easy to understand; the story flows smoothly, the dialogue is simple, and human emotions are conveyed but with strength and subtlety. I highly recommend this book.

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review by . April 01, 2013
A masterpiece, a true literary work that genuinely represents global literature at its best.
Par Largerkvist's Barabbas is a powerful yet short read that will transport readers to the life and times of Jesus Christ and to a period where the Romans ruled and the Jewish sages, known as the Sanhedrin, upheld the laws of their people.      In the land of Jerusalem amidst all the hustle and bustle of daily life, there roams a gaunt man with weather beaten features who claims to be the Son of God. He says many things, shocking declarations to some and blasphemies to others. …
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Newton Ooi ()
Ranked #542
Hi everyone, so here is the rundown of me. I like reading and writing, nonfiction for both. I love movies, especially original ones. I like nonfiction music, eating out, and basketball. I love to travel, … more
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"Its power is the power of a parable, with the same timeless echo." -- The New York Times

"As a parable, Barabbas is open to many interpretations. As a picture of a human soul, with or without parable, it is moving and convincing." -- Time

"Swift, sparing, limpid, and hauntingly intense." -- Atlantic Monthly --Review
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ISBN-10: 067972544X
ISBN-13: 978-0679725442
Author: Par Lagerkvist
Publisher: Vintage

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