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Monday, September 6, 2010

The raging conflict between good and evil in the human soul

Title: Barabbas
Author: Pär Lagerkvist
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

If you have never paused to ponder the significance of someone choosing to die in your place, then Barabbas, the novel by award-winning Swedish author Pär Lagerkvist, will make you. Like the title suggests, the novel is drawn from the Golgatha experience in the Bible. Even those who don’t know their Bible well surely know about Barabbas, the man whose life takes a dramatic turn when it is exchanged with the Lord’s by Pontius Pilate. Jesus Christ – an innocent man, is crucified on the cross at Calvary while Barabbas – the notorious criminal, is set free.

The Gospels actually say close to nothing about who Babarras really was. This is what makes Lagerkvist’s novel unique because his version of Barabbas is that of a man whose troubles begin at conception. Accordingly, Barabbas’s mother is a Moabite woman taken prisoner by a band of rogues, raped and sold to a brothel in Jerusalem when she gets pregnant with Barabbas. Out of the bitterness of her misfortunes, she curses Barabbas when he’s still in her womb and delivers him in “hatred of heaven and earth and the Creator of heaven and earth”. She dies shortly after giving birth to him.

Barabbas is picked from the streets and grows in his father’s gang; later killing his father in self-defence by shoving him down a precipice. So many things happen thereafter; Barabbas gets arrested and when Jesus later takes his place, Barabbas is changed forever. His band now looks at him as a burden; they don’t like his gloomy and scarred face and think it’s his fault that the band is dogged by bad luck as they have recently lost two members.

Everywhere Barabbas turns, he’s condemned. “Get thee hence, thou reprobate!” they shout. And poor Barabbas continues his lonely walk, the prominent scar on his lonely face reflecting his despised and ugly past. Barabbas cannot stop thinking about why the son of God accepts to die in his place in such a “dreadful way”.
This way, Barabbas, however condemned, is closer to Jesus probably like no other man.

Curved on a disk suspended from his neck is God’s crossed-out name. Barabbas wants to believe, to affirm his faith but he cannot pray. All he can say is, “I want to believe.” It appears he is inevitably connected with Jesus so much that his last words reflect the Masters. “To thee I deliver up my soul,” he cries as he gives up the ghost.

Lagerkvist, who won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951, writes movingly as he explores the raging conflict between good and evil in the human soul and man’s urgent need of God. To read Barabbas is to do yourself a favour!

--Sunday Monitor, September 5, 2010