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. Those who are angered find his statements difficult to digest and thus call out for justice, Caiaphas being the most notable. Justice for them comes by way of crucification of the prophet, the so-called Son of God, the rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth.
The opening scene of Barabbas is quite visual and shocking, a scene depicting three crosses on a hilltop in Golgotha, the place of the skulls, with an array of people viewing the horrific punishment: Mary, his mother, Mary Magdalene, Veronica, Simon of Cyrene and Joseph of Arimathea, the man who shrouded his dead body. In the distance is a man who questions his own presence at that particular site. He is Barabbas, the murderer and thief who was chosen to be freed by public demand. His replacement was to be Jesus of Nazareth. Barabbas looks at the crosses in confused wonder and ponders at the knowledge that that could have been his unfortunate fate, for he was more deserving of it than that scraggily man ever could have been.
With that understanding, Barabbas grapples throughout the novella to understand why this man, this supposed Son of God, did what he did. Why did he not cry out his innocents? Why did he not protest? Why did he allow himself to be crucified? Repeatedly he ponders this and simply cannot fathom it, even though he comes across Lazerus of Bethany, whom Jesus raised from the dead and the entourage who followed Jesus up to his judgement and ultimate physical demise. The blatant signs are simply not enough for him, but he is still seeking, yet internally rather than outwardly.
Barabbas roams the arid landscape, kind of a lost soul who is thirsty for answers. And while he is not thoroughly appeased by Lazerus of Bethany or the hard core followers of Jesus, he still maintains a sense of openness to the philosophy of Jesus, which is to love one another. He is rather flabbergasted by the simplicity of it all and some of the other teachings, but when he sees it put into practice by the slaves and the lesser known followers of Jesus, the hardness within him slowly begins to crack. To be cautious, however, Barabbas still holds onto his yoke of hardness, because that is all he's ever known in his whole life; it is his security blanket. It is only with his capture by the Romans and eventual placement into slavery that things begin to happen. He gets chained to a meek and gentle follower of Jesus, named Sahak, and it is through him and again, through a small band of others, that the doors within Barabbas slowly begin to open to faith. The episodes depicted towards the ending of the novella are truly stunning, and the ending was most edifying. It touches a nerve but in a positive and most beautiful way.
Barabbas was a wonderful read, not judgmental or excessively didactic, purely simple and to-the-point. The clarity of the prose was clean and not effusive. The restraint gives the novel a wonderful structure. After having read Lagerkvist's novella, The Dwarf, many years ago and loving it just as much, I can truly understand why he was declared one of the eighteen "Immortals" of the Swedish Academy and also as to why he was the winner of the 1951 Nobel Prize for Literature. He was a true literary artist.
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 … more