The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 5 May 2003


by Pär Lagerkvist

In the Biblical tale of the Passion of Christ, there is one moment, less known to those of us less familiar with the Bible, in which a choice is made between Christ's crucifixion and that of Barabbas, a thief and murderer. The crowd chooses Barabbas to be freed, and thus Christ dies on the cross. As far as I know, that's the last we hear of Barabbas and his fate. In this little, but intense, novel, Lagerkvist explores the life of Barabbas, and his irrevocable tie to Jesus Christ. Barabbas goes on to witness the crucifixion and the morning of the third day, on which Jesus's tomb is found empty. Other Biblical tales are related from a point of view that makes the story immediate and historical. Barabbas has no faith, and wanders his life in search of connection, literal and figurative. He hopes for faith but finds none, while witnessing the faith of others in the nascent religion founded partly upon an event in which he played a part through no choice of his own. Much of his life illustrates the wandering of the soul in its search for faith, belief, and connection. He is a lonely man. He works in the hell of the Roman copper mines. He searches through dark tunnels of death. His empty search is painful and hollow. Lagerkvist makes a mythical tale out of Barabbas's life, but it is somewhat unclear whether the author is telling us he finds faith empty or merely that the search of it is filled with tribulation. It is hard to say if Barabbas is an innocent of the kind who finds faith through his innocence, or if he is a sinner blind to the virtues of faith. For its small size, this is a provocative book.

(Pär Lagerkvist was awarded the 1951 Nobel Prize for literature.)

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Also by Lagerkvist: [The Dwarf]