Book Review

Written By: The Lowdown - Jul• 01•00

Abe Galaun
By Dr Jonathan H Chileshe

In the December 1999 issue of the Lusaka Lowdown, we reviewed the book Zion in Africa, about the Jewish community in Zambia, and now we have another book about a member of this community, Abe Galaun.

The book documents his early life in Lithuania and gives readers an idea of the conditions under which he, his parents and his siblings lived, even though he came from a family that ranked in the middle stratum of society. It also gives one insight into the emphasis that Judaism places on ethical behaviour based on traditional and ritual obedience.

Abe initially attended a Hebrew School in Lithuania and then entered a public school where he was taught mathematics, history and the like. But that was not the only education he had. His father was a butcher and he often accompanied him on cattle-buying trips which no doubt stood him in good stead when he entered the butchery business himself in Zambia.

Abe left Lithuania in 1938 at the age of 25. Not only was the economy of the region in which he lived stagnating, but the ominous signs of Hitler’s anti-Semitism were on the horizon. Only a few months after Abe’s departure, Hitler attacked Lithuania, during which Abe’s mother and sister were murdered. Some of Abe’s brothers and sisters had already emigrated to South Africa and today’s Zimbabwe, so it was natural that this was the direction in which he headed, except that he continued up to Zambia, albeit because both countries refused applications for permanent residence.

His first business venture was collecting scrap metal for sale to the foundry in Luanshya, but after he had collected 30 tonnes, he had exhausted Zambia’s supply of scrap metal and was therefore without a job. He had however made a profit of 80 Pounds. After that he was employed by a Mr Jacob’s to run a store in Mongu. After seven years there, he had saved 3,000 Pounds and relocated to Lusaka where he started his butchery business and embarked on his farming ventures, together with his wife, Vera.

Also documented is Abe and Vera’s contributions to the Zambian community, especially charities and the lesser-privileged members of our society and also the Jewish community in Zambia. There is also a section of the book devoted to what some highly respected individuals, including John Mwanakatwe, SC have to say about Abe.

The author, Jonathan Chileshe, an economist, has written other books, though mostly they are about development economics and it is heartening to see Zambian writers branching into biographies.

All in all, it is an extremely interesting book, especially for those that have an interest in the history of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, it is often repetitive and seems to jump back and forth on subjects, so it is fairly difficult to get a chronological picture of events. Sadly too, the grammar is often poor, with common ‘Zambian English’ errors like ‘literary’ instead of ‘literally’ (twice) and ‘sell’ instead of ‘sale’. There is also often inconsistency in the facts, so it would not be a reliable source for historical research, but then I don’t suppose that this was the intention of the book.

The book, published by Walpole Parke Development Ltd and printed by Mission Press is of good quality and is available from Bookworld and The Book Cellar.

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