The book, all 400 pages of it, sticks largely to the script of facts but unlike many other biographies brings Abraham’s journey alive, saturated with anecdotes, narrating the many twists in the tail of Abraham’s life as if the author had been the proverbial fly on the wall at times.
Jane manages to find that perfect blend of what story telling should embrace, an embroidery of facts and at times a bit of fiction surely, giving readers of the book ‘Abraham’s People’ the impression of reading a novel rather than a dry story dictated entirely by time lines and actual events. Abraham’s escape route took him to Britain first, still as a young lad, before taking a leap into the unknown when he decided to first go to South Africa in 1901 to join up with his father, working his passage as a ‘grease monkey’ in the engine room before finally making his way to Kenya in 1903 at the age of 20.
The first chapters in the book are dedicated to the story of his forefathers, how they came to Lithuania where they first prospered and then suffered under increasingly intolerant rulers, leading up to the days when first his father had to flee for his dear life before, almost one by one, the rest of the family managed to make their getaway. It must have been in those days in Leeds, when a little acorn took root in Abraham’s mind, germinating along the way, taking shape and eventually becoming a vision taking visible shape.
His arrival at the port of Mombasa and the rail journey on the ‘Lunatic Express, aka as The Iron Snake’, his stepping off the train in Nairobi, back then but a depot for the railway, around which a town had just started to grow, his first meetings with contemporaries who were part of Kenya’s colonial history, all is meticulously captured by the author. Again it almost appears that Jane Barsby was present or else managed to train her looking glass back in time as she describes how Abraham met with Tommy Woods on arrival in Nairobi, who became a fast friend, or how Abraham made a quick 25 pounds profit on a land deal, which he struck with one of the Asian community’s icons Mr. Jevanjee and how he then ventured into business, farming, ranching and deal making, soon becoming part of the colonial Kenya’s ‘furniture’ too.
The author ably sums up Abraham’s business acumen when she describes him as basically a jack of all trades with an uncanny ability to smell money if it could be made somewhere by buying or selling, investing or trading, importing and exporting. As the chapters add up, more and more insight is given into the life Abraham lived, the setbacks he suffered and his almost throwing in the towel had it not been for Lord Delamare, the Kenyan colony’s leading aristocrat and an icon in his own right.