My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ben Hur is a wonderful novel and if you can get over the large descriptive paragraphs and the little actual storyline placed within a huge historical background, it can easily be a 5 stars. In my mind it’s more like a 4.25 not because of the descriptions slowing down the pace…I actually love descriptions in books, but because maybe I had larger expectations when I started reading it and I was a little bit disappointed because as I said nothing much happens. And also I felt like a 5 star rating would be a little bit unfair in the comparison with Sienkewicz's Quo Vadis which had a much more structured storyline.
The book can be divided into seven main stories / scenes: the story of the three Wise Men coming from all over the world to look for baby Jesus and the birth itself (amazing scene I admit I enjoyed every word of it); the story of Ben Hur who is betrayed by his Roman friend Messala and gets sold as a slave while his mother and sister are imprisoned and all their fortune is stolen (I felt like more of the story after his imprisonment should have been told); Ben Hur being saved from slavery by the Roman Arrius who also becomes his adopted father; after a couple of years Ben Hur already a strong and trained soldier looking for his revenge (this is an extremely long part of the book that totally lost me at some point, even though the scene of the amazing chariot race makes all the reading worth it); the very emotional scene of Hen Hur’s sister and mother incarcerated in a jail cell known to be infected with leprosy; the wonderful presentation of who exactly Jesus was, everything being shown through the eyes of Ben Hur and his contemporaries as they realize that he is not going to liberate them from Roman subjugation; the scene of the crucifixion which makes an extremely emotional ending.
Most of these stories are beautiful writings, some really exceptional (the chariot race, the leprosy, the crucifixion) but I felt the overall story line was way too fragmented, to coincidental, which maybe it’s for the sake of the Christianity coming to life background, some kind of ‘believe and not doubt’ motto, but personally I like fluidity in a book.
Overall although the 1880’s style can prove difficult for the modern reader I would say this is a must for every historical fiction lover. I surely enjoyed the ride!