Thursday, 18 February 2021

Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist

Pär Lagerkvist is a well-known Swedish author. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951. I have not read anything by him earlier (only a short book on words and its arts, which cannot compare to a novel). During his literary career he dealt with fundamental questions of good and evil, and these questions were dealt with through his various characters. He was a moralist and often used "religious motives and figures from the Christian tradition without following the doctrines of the church." (Wikipedia). Barabbas is one such characters. It is a wonderful novel and I was quite taken by it.

Barabbas is, according to Christian legend, the criminal who was pardoned when Jesus was sentenced to be crucified. Historians doubt whether this person actually existed, but that is for another post. He disappeared from historical sources after the event and nothin much is known about him.

Lagerkvist has used Barabbas to create a tale of the times. Barabbas is astonished that he is freed and an innocent man sentenced. He discreetly follow Jesus through Golgata and sees him dying on the cross. Afterwards he is going back to his old life in Jerusalem. However, the whole event has confused him. Listening to the gossip around town he hears, for the first time, about this Messias and his new, peaceful message to love each other.

Through all his life, Barabbas is biased towards the rev religion. Sometimes he believes and sometimes he doubts. It makes him do good deeds he would never have done otherwise, and he does not know how to interpret his own actions. His life turns out to be hard and troublesome, but all through its different phases Jesus' message is following him through people he encounters.

Reading the novel is like a discussion on morals and ethics. We can recognise ourselves in the doubts we have about, not only religion, but life in general. How do we know we are on the right course? Who says what is roght or wrong? At the end of his life Barabbas finally adhered to the belief. However, life is not that easy, and although he thought he was following the right path, it turned out to be the wrong one.

With Barabbas Lagerkvist has shown us that life is not a straight road to either happiness or salvation. We are week, we might not always be able to follow the right path, or be able to interpret the signs, no matter how much we try. Just like Barabbas we fight with our believes and our actions. It tells us a lot about our lives, even today, and is maybe a help on our journey through life. 

I think Lagerkvist deserves the Nobel Prize just for this one novel and wonderful story on life's struggle. The writing is poetic, although the story is a trouble some one. 


  1. I am adding this book to my list of books to seek out and read. Thank you for this wonderful review. This book sounds like a book I would love to read.

    1. How nice to hear Deb. I was quite taken by the book and can really recommend it. I am curious what you think about it, so please let me know.