The Power of One (The Power of One, #1) By Bryce Courtenay

I hardly know where to begin writing this review. This book had been on my to-read list for a long time. I finally decided to take the plunge and listen to the Audible version, narrated by the fantastic Humphrey Bowers (who really brought SHANTARAM to life also). And now it's over. Twenty hours spent getting to know the wonderful Peekay, and now I'm done? This is one of those books that isn't really over when you finish it. It stays with you and the characters live on inside your head.That's really the highest compliment I can pay a book.

The story is so hard to describe without making it sound simplistic. It is a coming of age story, a tale of friendship and history and love. It's the kind of book I already know I will find myself recommending to all sorts of people. I can see it appealing to young and old, men and women, which is a rare thing to come across. There is such humanity and thoughtfulness in this story, it's got humor, but a great depth, too. Since it is told by a boy, growing into young adulthood, he sees a lot of the political and social strife of the South African people though the eyes of a child, which adds such a strong emotional element to the story.

I feel a bit at a loss now, and don't quite know what to pick up next. I think it will have to be something entirely different, for it to have a chance, and for me not to compare it unfavorable to THE POWER OF ONE.

Needless to say, once I have let some time pass for this story to sink in, I will be seeking out Bryce Courtenay's many other books. I only wish I could write to him, and tell him how much I enjoyed his book, sadly he passed on two years ago. As I understand it, this story was largely autobiographical, which makes it that much more fascinating. Highly recommended!!

Find more reviews and bookish fun at Audio Cassette My all time favourite book! Audio Cassette Of all the books I read in 2009 one stands out in the horizon of my memory, a mass market paperback with 540 pages of microscopic print which I devoured in a day and a half.
The Power of one gave me the chance to meet a part of myself that I thought I had lost forever. It rekindled a long extinguished flame of hope, it awakened a lost feeling of wonder, it gave me proof that one can make a difference.

Set in South Africa in the 1930s and 40s , The Power of one is the compelling coming-of-age story of Peekay, an innocent English boy who very early in his life realizes that there are greater things at stake than the hatred between the Dutch Afrikaners and the English. The Second World War in Europe, the growing racial tensions and the beginning of Apartheid will influence his world and challenge his spiritual strength.
Even though the odds are stacked against small Peekay from the start, he never loses faith in the goodness of people and following the advice of several improvised but memorable mentors who will change his life, he becomes an improbable icon in boxing which will make history.

Reading this book felt magical, the story was touching in so many different ways that sometimes I had to stop reading, overwhelmed by the details and the tenderness I felt for this pure little boy who made a turbulent and full of hatred world shine with his goodwill and with his mysticism.
Peekay is one of the most inspiring characters I have ever met. He has become a part of myself, he belongs to me and to all the readers who re-learnt to believe along with him. Audio Cassette What a nice surprise this book was for me. This coming-of-age story set in 1939 South Africa has a focus on the sport of boxing throughout, which I am generally not a fan of, but certainly loved every minute of it in this story. Peekay endures awful humiliation and abandonment at such a young age yet he struggles along through adversity and heartbreaking losses.

Numerous comments by readers mention they did not care for the ending, but I, for one, loved it!

A touching and up-lifting story I plan to read again. Absoloodle! (you'll have to read the novel to appreciate that one) Highly recommend!

Audio Cassette Normally I refrain from writing long reviews, but this wonderful book offers so much to readers, that I must indulge. It is a broad sweeping book about rural South Africa, set in the late 1930s and 1940s prior to apartheid. It imparts a real sense of this exotic country and the friction between its diverse peoples: Dutch Afrikaners, native Boers, a host of black tribes, and the English.

The protagonist Peekay is an only child, sent to boarding school at age 5 when his mother is institutionalized. He is picked on mercilessly because he is youngest and English, and misses his black nanny. His nickname is Pisskop (pisshead) as he wets his bed. Peekay's only friend is a rebellious chicken. Things take a change for the better, when he is sent by train to his grandfather's distant home. He is adopted by conductor, Hoppie Groenewald, who cares for him and teaches one of this book's life lessons: first with the head, and then with the heart. Hoppie is an amateur boxer, and uses his prodigious skills to beat a much larger opponent at the end of the first leg of Peekay's train journey. Peekay immediately develops a deep passion for boxing and decides he wants to become the welterweight champ of the world. Arriving at his grandfather’s home, Peekay is devastated by the disappearance of his nanny and subjected to his mother's religious fervor. Once again, Peekay is rescued by a mentor, Professor Karl von Vollensteen (a/k/a Doc),whom he meets on a distant mountaintop. Doc too, adopts Peekay, and teaches him about botany, especially cacti, piano, Africa, and of course, life. As a German, Doc becomes jailed as a possible spy, but becomes a popular figure in the local prison, with inmates, guards, and the Commandant. Meanwhile, Peekay visits Doc regularly, and eventually convinces the staff to allow him to train as a boxer. The downtrodden criminal, Geel Piet, teaches Peekay how to box and they develop a symbiotic relationship, as Peekay smuggles tobacco into the prison. Peekay and the local town librarian also start a postal service for the mostly black inmates. Peekay's open-minded acceptance of others, accords him a mythical status with the African people in the prison and community, and he becomes revered as the Tadpole Angel, creating a large following as his boxing career advances.

Eventually, Peekay earns a scholarship and it sent to an exclusive prep school, where he meets his next good friend and mentor, a wealthy Jew named Morrie. Equally brilliant, the two develop businesses together, which allow them to afford getting Peekay trained at an elite boxing school. Peekay continues his unblemished record in the ring, eventually agreeing to fight a rising black champion, who has just turned professional, even though this is not legal and theoretically, a mismatch. And yet, there is great drama as this fighter's name is familiar to Peekay, he is a descendent of a tribal chief, and the legend of the Tadpole Angel is placed at risk. Peekay is a highly popular student and athlete, joining the elite leadership of the prep school, but he continues to work for the people, opening a school to teach local blacks to read and write, drawing the ire of the local white police. Morrie is accepted to Oxford, and Peekay does not win the coveted Rhodes Scholarship that would allow them to stay together. Instead, Peekay decides to take a grueling, dangerous job in the mines to build his strength and body mass. Once again, Peekay befriends a loner, in this case a huge Russian, who barely speaks English. Peekay's productivity makes him the envy of all, but he stays too long in this job, leading to disaster. My only complaint is that despite the final physical confrontation in the mine bar, with a lifelong foe, we don't know if Peekay achieves his life-long ambition so now I need to read the 900-page sequel. Given author Courtenay's gift for storytelling, I do not expect this will be too much of a chore. Audio Cassette

Audio version with introduction by the author himself. He is such a larrikin with a happy voice. Bryce Courtenay's debut, apparently toiled over at the kitchen table with his son's girlfriend stating This is the best book I've read, you need to publish it or words to the effect. The rest, they say, is history.

First with the head, then with the heart

What an Australian classic, one that I should have read by now.

Peekay starts out as a tiny tot (I have a 6 year old son and therefore horrified) who suffers dreadful abuse at this young age at boarding school, at the hands of horrible older boys, one in particular. Emerging a wonderful, well rounded and amazing human being.

Memories of his beloved wet nurse, neurotic mother and beloved music teacher and mentor; this is an epic story centring on the discipline and craft of boxing. South Africa is a sometimes bleak and beautiful place, told from around the time of 1930-1940. Worthwhile reading. Amazing narration.

29/03/18 Addendum. I stumbled across notes taken during my audio read, so I have some more thoughts.

On Peekay losing one of his most favourite people in the world, due to a zealously religious and neurotic mother:
The lord is a shithead and I allowed myself a good cry” “The only person I knew not to have camouflage was Nanny”

There are too many sweet and wonderful comments from Peekay, I must purchase the hard copy, it would be a valuable asset to any bookshelf.

Peekay’s grandfather, I loved reading these parts between the young and the old: There’s a good lad.” Tap tap. Stroke ” goes Grandfather’s pipe process.

Peekay’s perception: “Very high up born again Christian” ” This was so humorous with the full on nature of Peekay’s mother, so worried about the ranking of all this stuff!

I cannot read my writing, so I hope I am doing Mr Courtenay justice here. “To emerge as myself. To regain the power of one.” Audio Cassette The dazzling writing style of Bryce Courtenay is captured in this, his debut novel. Its intricate prose and powerful characters bring a story to life that few readers will be able to resist. In rural South Africa during the late 1930s, Peekay is a young boy who has been sent to boarding school. With English roots, Peekay struggles in this school where the Boer boys ridicule him for his heritage, turning verbal pokes into full-on malicious attacks. With war building in Europe, Peekay is led to believe by classmates that Hitler will soon arrive in South Africa to toss the shackles from the Afrikaner people, long subjugated by the English. After a number of brush-ups with others, the matron agrees to send Peekay to his grandfather’s home, a long train ride across the country. Eager to leave, Peekay begins the long train ride, soon joined by the conductor, Hoppie Groenewald. This new friend helps Peekay with the ways of the rails, as well as being an amateur boxer in his own right. Peekay develops a passion for boxing and attends a bout where Hoppie is set to meet a much larger opponent, all during the train’s layover. Peekay is astonished when he sees Hoppie box, as well as the passion that others feel about the sport. From there, it is back on the train, where Peekay must survive the rest of the journey without his dear Hoppie. Arriving at his grandfather’s home, Peekay has distant memories of life with his family, including two young kitchen maids who keep him entertained. As he tried to acclimate to life in rural South Africa, Peekay befriends a highly interesting man, one Professor ‘Doc’ Karl von Vollensteen. Doc is a former concert pianist from Germany whose interest in botany piques Peekay’s curiosity, allowing him to further his education in a less formal setting. War continues to rage and South African officials choose to detain Doc, citing his German heritage as an issue that cannot be overlooked. While incarcerated, Doc continues to share his passion of music with Peekay and the other prisoners, many of whom are poor blacks. Straddling the middle, Peekay is able to forge strong friendships with the prisoners, who respect him for not treating them as lower class citizens, as well as with the guards, who help hone is boxing skills. Still young, Peekay must sell his abilities as a boxer to those who will help shape him into the athlete he hopes to become. Peekay’s passion for learning helps him excel in school and he’s sent off to yet another boarding school, but remains close to all those who have helped him along his path. The reader can easily become lost in Courtenay’s fabulous narrative that continues to twist from here, adding depth and insight to an already powerful tale. Highly recommended for those who love complex stories that touch on history and coming of age. How do I feel about the book? As Professor von Vollensteen would say, “for this I give... eleven out of ten. Absoloodle!”

Those who have not experienced a Bryce Courtenay novel are in for a treat with this piece. Not only does the reader have the opportunity to experience Courtenay’s first foray into writing but also experience his unique style, which combines well-developed characters with a plot that is rich with detail. Some may find his writing to be both excessive and too much to digest in a single novel, but it is this that makes the books even more enjoyable. Courtenay uses an interesting formula in his writing, which the attentive reader will discover as they meander throughout his novels, this one being no exception. There are scores of characters who cross the pages, each serving to develop their own backstory and to offer a slice of character revelation for the protagonist, Peekay. While the reader will notice strong ties between Peekay and one character in the early portion of the book, that individual will soon vanish, though their life lessons and impact are felt throughout the rest of the story. Courtenay inundates the reader with names and characteristics, which may cause some to stumble or require crib notes, but, rest assured, it is well worth the temporary confusion. Having read all of Courtenay’s novels, I can see character themes that reemerge, including token characters of a variety of backgrounds. The story itself becomes a tale full of twists and turns, such that the path on which the narrative is leading the reader soon changes, leaving what one might have expected to be left in the proverbial dust. This is also something that some may criticise, but I find this serpentine journey to be refreshing and forces the reader to remain engaged, rather than skim through parts of the story. As Courtenay calls this piece his loose attempt at a fictionalised autobiography (yes, the dichotomy of the statement is not lost on me), the historic moments and struggles are more than conjured up dramatisations from world events, but actual experiences that Courtenay felt. One can only imagine the strife in which South Africa found itself in the late 1930s and into the 40s. The Afrikaner population is still smarting as they are being regulated by the English, but they, too, have developed a sense that, perhaps, Hitler can come to save them and return the land to the rightful Boers. Peekay feels this throughout the novel, an English boy tossed amongst the strong-willed Afrikaners who look down upon him. However, there is also the theme of brewing apartheid, which has been loosely permitted for decades already. Courtenay’s narrative shows the subjugation of the black population and the brutality that is inflicted upon them. While I do not condone this whatsoever, I have always been very interested in the apartheid mentality and how the Afrikaners justified it to the world. Courtenay offers up a front row seat to the reader, hoping they will better understand what went on. As an aside, the book’s publication came just as the grip of apartheid was loosening, so it may be an educational piece to those who could not fathom the true horrors of the policy as it gained momentum and became a way of life. It is this sort of depth that has drawn me to all of Courtenay’s books, as he offers more than a superficial look at the world, which entertaining the reader. True, his books are long and tangential, but, like a well-paced journey, they permit the reader to gather many wonderful nuggets of information from page to page. As a friend commented to me recently, the story ends somewhat abruptly and has no strong sense of finality. Therefore, I’ll rush to get to the sequel, Tandia , to continue the exploration of Courtenay’s Africa.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for such a stupendous piece. Re-reading this book has solidified why I consider it one of my favourites and a book I’d surely pack for an island isolation.

This book fulfils Topic # 3: Island Reading in the Equinox #3 Reading Challenge.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:
Audio Cassette Wow... incredible!!!
I fell in love with Peekay even 'before' he was five years old, starting in South Africa, when he shares of being nursed from his lovely black nanny before being sent to boarding school. ( although we follow him from age 5 to 20 - from the late 1930's to mid 40's).

Our oldest daughter attended a boarding High School in Michigan for a short time -an academic/arts school. The family separation was painful. I can't begin to imagine sending a 5 year old away to a boarding school even in the 'best' of conditions.
And the fact that this story is inspired by the authors real life....for me, this is one of the most wrenching parts of the entire book....being sent away from his family at age 5 -- from 'love' he was receiving to 'hatred' he was walking into.

Peekay is bullied and abused almost immediately upon arrival as a 5 year old at his boarding school. He's the youngest child in the school.
Missing the comfort of his Black nanny ( Peekay is English and white), who would soothe his hurts...missing his mother who was sent away due to a nervous breakdown, Peekay was the first live example of the congenital hate they carried for his kind.
The Boer War had created great malevolent feelings against the English, who were called the 'rooineks'. It was a hate that had entered the Afrikaner bloodstream and pocked the hearts and minds of the next generation.
Given that Peekay, spoke English, he pronounced sentences that killed their grandfathers and grandmothers to the world's first concentration camps. Little Peekay had no advance warning that he was wicked before coming to the school.

One of the other kids - called 'Judge' abused Peekey regularly. Peekay even made a deal with him to do the Judge's homework and make sure he didn't fail-- but he still continues to abuse him. - really 'tortured him.
We see how Peekay begins to survive- horrific conditions at such a young tender age: Peekay says:
One thing got to them more than anything else. They could make me cry. Even the Judge, with all of the fear he could provoke, could not make me cry. I suspect they even began to admire me a bit. Many as them brothers my age at home, and they knew how easy it is for a five-year-old to cry. In fact, I had turned six but nobody had told me, so in my head, I was still five.
Not being able to cry was the hardest part for me as well. Crying can't be a good camouflage. In truth, my willpower had very little to do with my resolve never to cry. I had learned a special trick and, in the process, had somehow lost the knack of turning on the tap.

Peekay is a diamond in the inspiring character. He's smart, open minded, and doesn't have an ounce of bitterness or hatred in him. He develops meaningful friendships with teachers and mentors who teach him to read. He meets a healer, and a boxer. We learn a tremendous amount about boxing. We also learn a lot about the history of South Africa through the eyes of a child.

The themes of discrimination were well defined by the author: the Boers vs. the English - South Africans vs. the Germans - the Jews vs. the Germans - white Africans vs. the Black Africans.
Violence is graphic - so be warned.

It's a cruel and beautiful world we live in!
Audio Cassette I just finished reading The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay which was recommended to me by JK in our little cross country virtual book club. Divided into three parts, this is a story of a boy named Peekay coming of age in 1930-1950's South Africa. So, we've got major historical things happening - Boer War aftermath, Hitler Germany and WWII, the buddings of Apartheid. And then you have this really small boy going through hell at age 5 in a boarding school and learning at this infant stage in life how to survive. His power grows with each new and colorful mentor that he (and we) meets along the way. First with the head and then with the heart, is his mantra throughout the story. There is little I love more than a good piece of fiction with brilliant and richly described narrative. I just found that a movie was made about the book in 1992... I'm definitely interested in checking it out but I don't want to ruin the absoloodle perfection of this story so I may skip it. Audio Cassette Took me some time to read, but not because it wasn't good, but just because there is so much to this story. A supremely well written book! If you like historical fiction - the type focused on people living in certain historical eras, not necessarily specific historical events - you will enjoy this story. I now feel like I have a good feel for WWII era South Africa. Also, if you like interesting characters and good character development, this is a good story for you, too. Audio Cassette

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. The Power of One (The Power of One, #1)


summary ä eBook or Kindle ePUB ¹ Bryce Courtenay