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The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

The Power of One (1989)

by Bryce Courtenay

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,954971,922 (4.26)142
  1. 21
    Tandia by Bryce Courtenay (daniellekrista)
    daniellekrista: This is the sequel to The Power of One. While P of O is my favorite book(I have read/listened to it nearly 10 times), Tandia is deeper and darker. This book follows Peekay on his boxing journey and shows the real hate of apartheid in South Africa.… (more)
  2. 00
    A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (mcenroeucsb)
    mcenroeucsb: Semi-comic coming of age story
  3. 00
    The Syringa Tree: A Novel by Pamela Gien (Bitter_Grace)

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"First with the head, then with the heart, you'll be ahead from the start."

Set in South Africa between 1939 to 1951 this novel traces the adventures of Peekay, an English-speaking South African boy, from age five to age seventeen. After his mother suffers from a nervous breakdown, the five-year-old Peekay is sent to an Afrikaans boarding school, where he is brutally tortured by the other boys with constant stream of verbal and physical abuse. In particular they call him "rooinek" (redneck), a term used for Englishmen during the Boer War. Peekay gets very little protection either from the school administrators, in fact Mevrou, the Afrikaans woman who runs the boarding school, is just as brutal, prefers to hand out canings with her "sjambok" rather sympathy.

Despite the constant beatings and humiliations Peekay excels at school, but has learnt that surviving the system means that he must hide his brilliance, to take on a camouflage so as not to stand out from the crowd. However, after a while Peekay realises that the Judge is struggling with his own homework and offers to help him with it. This allows the Judge to pass his exams but doesn't diminish his hatred for Peekay.

At the end of the school year Mevrou informs Peekay that his family has moved to the town of Barberton and that he must take the train alone to join them. On the train to there, Peekay meets Hoppie Groenewald, boxing champion of the railways. Hoppie invites the boy to watch him box a man called Jackhammer Smit at a stop along the way. Despite Hoppie being much smaller than his opponent he wins the fight, making Peekay realise that it is possible to can stand up to bigger foes whilst also instilling in him the dream of becoming welterweight champion of the world along with the mantra-"First with the head, then with the heart".

Once at Barberton, Peekay meets an old German music professor, Karl von Vollensteen, who introduces himself as Doc. Because of his nationality Doc is imprisoned in the town's prison but Peekay is still allowed to visits him for music lessons. Whilst there Peekay joins the prison boxing squad where Peekay is coached by a Cape colored man, Geel Piet. Peekay quickly develops into an outstanding boxer and becomes a legend amongst black South Africans. One night Geel Piet is murdered by a warder.

At the end of WWII ends Doc is released from prison and Peekay wins a scholarship to the prestigious Prince of Wales school in Johannesburg.

Book Two of the novel describes Peekay's experiences at the Prince of Wales school where he becomes a stranger to failure, excelling at boxing and academics, until he fails to win a scholarship to attend Oxford University. After this failure Peekay to move to Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) to work in one of the copper mines there to earn enough money to pay his way through three years at Oxford.

Book Three features his time in the dangerous mines where he forms a close friendship with a Russian miner, Rasputin, who eventually saves Peekay during a mining catastrophe. But, before leaving the mines, he discovers that he has been working for his old nemesis, Jaapie Botha (the Judge). Peekay fights and knocks out Botha carving the letters "PK" into the latter's arm.

Given the time span of this novel apartheid is obviously a major factor in this story but despite it's abhorrent nature it is never tackled directly. Rather like the rise in National Socialism in pre-war Germany it just seems to slowly seep into the national psyche. Apartheid itself was never an official Government term but rather politician's in South Africa disguised it within what appeared outwardly benign legislation and many of the people didn't really realise what was happening until it was far too late. This sort of thing can even be seen today in countries across the world. Slowly curtail free speech, free press and protest is curtailed under the guise of protecting national security, in the creep in popularity of populist parties and politicians, so the public must be mindful of their own civil liberties. Equally we must also remember that Peekay is still only seventeen at the end of this novel so despite his precocious intelligence is not yet worldly wise.

As such I think that there is a certainly naivety in the author's writing style which I'm unsure was intended or not, it is after all the author's first novel. However, it is also touching and humorous at times whilst the action rolls along at a good pace. As such I found this a thoroughly enjoyable read and am now off to tackle it's sequel Tandia. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Mar 28, 2019 |
Confessional One: I accidentally ordered the childrens' book version of The Power of One. Before I realized my mistake I was already half way through it.
Confessional Two: the version for children needed to be returned before I was finished so I jumped over the the adult full length story. I'm glad I did.

Confessional Three: The Power of One started a little slow for me. Maybe because I started with a book for children? At times I thought it contained magical realism. Once the story picked up I was thoroughly engrossed.

Known only by the derogatory name of Pisskop, a child is born in South Africa and in the shadow of Hitler's rise to cruel power. In 1939 Pisskop seems destined for demise. He was born of the wrong color, white. He spoke the wrong language, English. He was raised by a woman of the wrong color, black. His own mother all but nonexistent. Pisskop knew fear, cruelty, humiliation and abandonment all before he turned six years old. Through a series of unremarkable events Pisskop is led to the people and opportunities that would bestow courage and grit on the young boy. Harry Crown, who renames Pisskop, Peekay. Hoppie Groenewald, who offers Peekay a green sucker at their first fateful meeting (a gesture Peekay will always remember). Doc, who becomes a mentor and a father figure for Peekay. Geel Peet, who takes Peekay's boxing skills to another level. Because of these early relationships, Peekay gains confidence and courage, vowing to overcome his color, his speech, his pitiful upbringing. In his dreams he survives to become the welterweight champion of the world. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Sep 10, 2018 |
It’s a pretty good dark-story-that-gives-you-hope.


His hope isn’t in religion, but that’s understandable.
  smallself | May 24, 2018 |
I wanted to love this much more than I did. The writing and historical setting were well done, the characters interesting, and the audio pleasant. But there was too much boxing, the main character was too perfect (really, he NEVER lost a match? Ever?) (and he is worshiped by all the native tribes and adored by most of the white people he encounters too?), and the ending scene was cheap and disappointing. ( )
  Janellreads | Oct 18, 2017 |
An excellent book about prejudice and racial inequality and how it shapes us. ( )
  MPaddock | Sep 22, 2017 |
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Man is a romantic at heart and will always put aside dull, plodding reason for the excitement of an enigma.  As Doc had pointed out, mystery not logic, is what gives us hope and keeps us believing in a force greater than our own insignificance.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 034541005X, Paperback)

“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”
–The New York Times

“Unabashedly uplifting . . . asserts forcefully what all of us would like to believe: that the individual, armed with the spirit of independence–‘the power of one’–can prevail.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

In 1939, as Hitler casts his enormous, cruel shadow across the world, the seeds of apartheid take root in South Africa. There, a boy called Peekay is born. His childhood is marked by humiliation and abandonment, yet he vows to survive and conceives heroic dreams–which are nothing compared to what life actually has in store for him. He embarks on an epic journey through a land of tribal superstition and modern prejudice where he will learn the power of words, the power to transform lives, and the power of one.

“Totally engrossing . . . [presents] the metamorphosis of a most remarkable young man and the almost spiritual influence he has on others . . . Peekay has both humor and a refreshingly earthy touch, and his adventures, at times, are hair-raising in their suspense.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Marvelous . . . It is the people of the sun-baked plains of Africa who tug at the heartstrings in this book. . . . [Bryce] Courtenay draws them all with a fierce and violent love.”
–The Washington Post Book World


“A compelling tale.”
–The Christian Science Monitor

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:54 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Story of Peekay, an English boy, living in South Africa during World War II whose dream is to become a winner.

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Average: (4.26)
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1.5 4
2 34
2.5 10
3 96
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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141304898, 0143004557, 0143204793

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