The Power of One

ISBN: 0385732546
ISBN 13: 9780385732543
By: Bryce Courtenay

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Bookclub Classics Coming Of Age Currently Reading Favorites Fiction Historical Literature Novels To Read

About this book

Episodic and bursting with incident, this sprawling memoir of an English boy's lonely childhood in South Africa during WW II pays moderate attention to questions of race but concerns itself primarily with epic melodrama.--Publishers Weekly.

Reader's Thoughts

David

This is one of the most important books I have ever read. The reader really gets pulled into the life of PK, experiencing his trials and successes. There are some great laugh out loud moments, such as during his train ride with Big Hettie, and when Granpa Chook decides to express his opinion of The Judge and his Nazi party (though the surrounded circumstance is sad and grim). There are also some very dark times in his life, but these serve to prove the triumph of the human spirit and so are a valuable part of the story. One of the lessons I took away from the book was the value in accepting people how they are, no matter if their beliefs or behavior aligns with what you perceive as right or wrong. You can stay true to yourself and be kind to others without changing them.

craige

I firmly believe that a book or a movie can be about absolutely anything as long as its well written. There are a few sports movies out there that I have enjoyed, that I got wrapped up in, all because what they were really were was just good stories. This is a book like that. If you do happen to read the back cover, you will learn that the book is about boxing, but it's hardly just about boxing. Saying The Power of One is only about boxing is like saying doing well in school is only about showing up to class. Well, bad analogy, but you get my point. The book starts off with the main character, whose real name you never learn, heading off to boarding school at 5 years old. Although it's told from his point of view, the story is not at all childish because Peekay is wise beyond his years. (Peekay is the name he chooses for himself after he is called Pisskop, which means "pisshead." I never did quite understand why he chose a name based on that insult, but he carries his new name proudly.) The book is overly sentimental at times, but is so well written that that is easily forgiven. Bad things happen to Peekay, but the reader quickly realizes that all will work out in the end. The question is how. The book is so beautifully written that the rather basic story line of a poor kid with a big dream fighting his way to the top by staying honest becomes a truly unique tale that will stay with you long after you've put the book down.Highly recommended.

Karen Klink

I don't usually review a book unless there is something about it that grips me more than usual. This one had a lot going for it, in spite of the information that repeated two or three times, which should never have got past the editor and likely would not have these days.The ending nearly spoiled the entire story for me. The story and the boy, had one major goal that he was determined to reach for the entire novel, one that was repeated throughout no matter what happened to him. I would make a great deal of sense to me if, once a character changed and grew into something more than he had been in the beginning, that goal would finally change into something perhaps more worthwhile. That did not happen here. Not only was the goal never reached in the book, but the author turned the ending to one of merely revenge and violence--a horrible beating of the character (now an adult) who had bullied our protagonist when he was a child. That is where the so-called Power of One is supposed to triumph? This was the most disappointing ending I have ever read.

Caleb Rogers

** spoiler alert ** Power of One starts off disgustingly. The first chapter contains mostly shitting and pissing, and even better, people getting shit and pissed on. I'm sure an AP english teacher would say this represents something quite shitty, such as how shitty Africa is, but I just know the author was fighting through some strange fetishes at the time of writing Power of One. It's the only plausible explanation. After a final awesome scene wherein the main character's bald old chicken takes a big dump in a bully's mouth (clearly representative of the author's secret self loathing of never doing anything about being picked on in school and always depending on others to help him, i.e., bald chickens), the main character runs off to get some shoes or suckers or something and gets on a train, does some growing up and plans his life around a single boxing match, and meets a really fat chick. Seriously, this chick was fat. So fat she couldn't even stand up when she fell over in a drunken stupor. So fat that she didn't even bother trying once she was on the ground and instead decided to die after eating three chickens and a chocolate cake. Another fetish of the author's is revealed, in the form of BBW. More growing up happens, and the story turns into a smart kid being smarter than everybody else around him and beating people up who pick on him. He cries a bit about being forced to be a winner, how horrible it is to always be winning and be a god of Africa and to have everybody love him more than their own mothers, and how he's still too good to take a loan to go to Oxford. Then he beats up the bully from the beginning again. Oh, also, the bully was a nazi. Bryce Courtenay must have once dreamt of being a little kid kick'n the nazi's asses.Took me a long time to read this one, for some reason. Never really devoted an afternoon to it, which made it nice and stretched out. An overall good book, I would suggest it to others, it really is quite funny, and meaningful, and whatnot. I'm sure somebody more learned could find some meaningful lesson in it.

Stacie

It is hard for me to find words to describe this book. I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the end, but that was only because of my desire to have it wrapped up and end with Peekay reaching his goal. But, that is not how life works and I think that is what Courtenay was getting at. I can't remember a book that I felt so invested in the character AND loved the writing. I also can't remember the last time I read a book that made me cry more than once. It was a beautiful coming of age tale that I was sad to see end and I can't stop thinking about it.

Kadedra

The Power of One1st Draft The Power of One is a historical fiction novel by Bryce Courtenay. The theme of the book is to how to become a strong person after having a troubled childhood. The Power of One mainly focuses on how Peekay grew up to be a strong person after years of abuse in Africa. Peekay known as Pisskop in the beginning is sent to a boarding school after his mother suffers from a nervous breakdown. While at the boarding school Peekay is bullied by all the other older boys, but specifically by boy the others call the Judge (he is the leader of the bullies). They mostly pick on Peekay because he is white and he wets the bed. Peekay leaves the boarding to live in a place called Barberton. He meets many people while in Barberton, Professor “Doc” Von Vollensteen, Jackhammer(a cocky boxer), and Big Hettie. Professor Von Vollensten had the most impact on Peekay’s life because he became a mentor and the person who Peekay looked for when he needed guidance. Doc taught Peekay how to play music, and how to box and they became like father and son until Doc was arrested on suspicion of being a German spy. Doc was later released but soon dies. Peekay has now grown up and he gets a job at a factory that makes copper. He decides that it is time to move out of Barberton and before he leaves he goes to the local bar and ends in a fight with someone very familiar. I would recommend this book to people who read the Anne Frank story because the two books are very similar because Anne gets pulled away from her home and has to go to a concentration camp and she has to do slave work, Peekay also gets moved away from his home to do slave work and he has to worry about disease and death. The setting of both stories were around the time when Nazi’s were killing everyone who were not like them. I really like this book because it shows that white people are not the only ones to have owned slaves. It shows that African people were just as bad as the whites when it came to owning slaves and abusing them. The book also shows that just because you are in a bad situation doesn’t mean you can’t grow up to be successful. Before Peekay fought in the bar he was a well known boxer.

Chrissie

I thought the book could have been tightened, better edited and shortened. I was not that interested in the boxing….. The ending (view spoiler)[, with Peekay’s old childhood enemy “The Judge” being the man he worked with in the copper mines, (hide spoiler)] seemed contrived; it felt like the neat ending was too nicely tied up. It felt fictional, although the novel is supposed to be autobiographical. I would have appreciated an author’s note that explained what was fictional and what was fact. Nevertheless it is not a bad read, and the audiobook, narrated by Humphrey Bower was excellently performed. The various characters were each marvelously distinct. I enjoyed learning about the racial inequalities that existed even before the Apartheid ever came into existence in South Africa, copper mining in Rhodesia and cacti. I have met “characters” which I fervently hope are real people – Doc and boxer “Hoppy Rundevald” (spelling questionable) and Geel Piet and Miss Boorstein. Actually, I came to like these people so much more than Peekay! No, it is not a bad book, but I expected more given all the rave reviews I have read. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

Jessica Donaghy

I thoroughly enjoyed many elements of this book, and I learned a tremendous amount about boxing and the history of South Africa, through a child's eye view. However, my opinion took a downward plunge toward the end of the book -- specifically the final 5 pages of the book. I don't want to include any spoilers, but what on earth was the author thinking?!? I interpreted the book's message so differently from what is depicted in the final scene. Perhaps I owe the author a second reading. STRANGE!!!Update:Just downgraded my review from 3 to 2 stars. The more I think about the story and try to derive meaning from it, the madder I get!

Lucy

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love a good title. The Power of One may seem obvious, especially after reading the book's jacket which says, "In this magical novel, an irresistible boy tells the story of his survival and coming of age against the background of South Africa during and just after World War II." The boy must be the One, right?Well, of course. He is. Little Peekay is sensitive boy. He gets, at an unusually young age, that some things matter and some don't and like any decent literary hero, the things that matter to him are the good things in life. Truth. Dignity. Honor. These virtues seem to come to him naturally, because his family life is sadly lacking. His mother is a negligent born-again who tears him away from the only mother he's ever known - a Zulu who talks to him, unlike his own blood relatives, and teaches him her ways. His love for her is a theme that carries throughout the novel.Which brings me back to the idea of the "One." This nurse-maid also becomes a "One." As the story follows Peekay throughout his life in a harsh South Africa, colorful characters all take their turn being powerful "one"s - or influences in Peekay's life. Peekay is the tie that holds this goodness together, but through him and with their collective help, that one became many and the many became one. It's a beautiful idea and masterfully told by Bryce Courtenay.If you read it, you'll fall in love with Peekay, his boxing mentor, Hoppie, Doc, and even a chicken, Grandpa Chook. You'll also learn a lot about boxing and the struggle between the Afrikaners and English as well as their mutual mistreatment of blacks in their country. Most importantly, you'll discover a boy who learns that anything can be accomplished if he does it "first with his head, then with his heart."

Mike

This is an amazing book. It is very well written, with wonderful characterization, and does a very good job of capturing the setting (WWII era South Africa, and the racial tensions therein).If I was asked to choose the books largest fault (and it *is* a large fault), oddly enough I would say that the largest fault is it's conscious handling of South Africa and Apartheid. Whenever the author tries to intentionally address these issues he veers too far into sentimentality and symbolism, and the threads of the book which address these issues go curiously incomplete at the end of the book (though perhaps this is not surprising, since the novel was published in the late eighties when Apartheid was still strong). The book is more about the main character, and his journey from the name "Pisskop" (the derogatory name given to him at an Afrikaans boarding school) to "Peekay" (the name he chooses for himself), and how he seeks his own life and individuality while moving through a deeply racist society which he does not always understand (especially in his youth).And it is here that the book does well at handling the issues of South Africa and Apartheid, because while the writing often becomes stilted when the author tries to directly address these issues, as a setting he does a remarkable job of capturing the little nuances and realities of racism in Africa.Well worth reading, and probably one of my favourite books (I was greatly pleased to see this on a list of "10 Great Books You've Probably Never Heard Of"). An excellent novel, with real insight into the racial tensions of the time, and amazingly enough he manages to make it an uplifting novel as well...

Malia

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!!

Stupac

** spoiler alert ** Of all the books I've read (with the exception of the Bible) this book has perhaps become most deeply engrained in my soul. I know that probably sounds rather trite, but I believe it to be so. Certainly I read it at the right time, as an impressionable freshman in high school. Despite our many differences, I found it easy to relate to the young english boy, Peekay, so out of place in WWII era South Africa, from his harrowing experiences in boarding school to becoming a famous boxer and pianist to working in a diamond mine and finally the showdown with a demon from his past. The friends he gains and loses still stick in my mind as archetypes for my own friendships, from Grandpa Chook the chicken to the big Russian miner, Rasputin. These friends help him to realize that the power he needs is within himself. Thanks for indulging me; I suppose ultimately we are all stars of our own personal drama and as far as I'm concerned Bryce Courtenay wrote this book to me. I want to thank Daniel for introducing me to this book.

Arah-Lynda

This is the story of Peekay, a frail, young, English boy growing up poor in South Africa and of his refusal to be demoralized by the racial torment surrounding him. On the road to becoming a young man he cultivates some uniquely, diverse friends and discovers many truths, not the least of which, are that loyalty, strength, love and compassion, coupled with a insatiable, thirst for knowledge and armed with the focus and courage to stay true to one's own self, can all be fused together, thus harnessing a power so potent that any worthy goal can and will be achieved. For me the message that rings out loudest and clearest in this story is how ridiculous racial hatred truly is.

Kathy

This is the story of Peekay, a young boy growing up in South Africa before, during, and after World War II, and the good people he met along his way to becoming the welterwieght boxing champion of the world. The memorable characters included (among many) Giel Peet, an imprisoned black man who taught Peekay to box; Doc, a gentle 6'7" German professor who taught Peekay to love nature and music and books; and, Miss Boorstein, a brilliant Jewish teacher who fostered Peekay's intellectual genius through her guidance and tutoring. I learned many things in this book- the complex art of boxing, how bad and inhumane apartheid is, and how much more I might have accomplished if I had grown up in an era where there was no television or other distractions. I know I would have read more and practised that piano more and given of myself more as well. I also find myself wishing for those mentors like Peekay's who saw the great promise he had and gently guided him to his full potential. Through this book I also learned to appreciate the idea of the "voice" of the writer. The book began when Peekay was about five and ended when he was about 18. Along the way his words slowly matured and changed from that of a young child to that of an educated young man. Finally, I had no idea how bad apartheid is. I had heard talk of it, but did not really understand the indignities the colored race suffered in South Africa at the hand of the ruling white race. Racism is bad and I think we are to fight it wherever and whenever we encounter it or at least try to help our fellow man like Peekay did.

Mandy

Although this book is really not much at all like the movie (which I highly recommend watching, one of my favorites), it was still a great book. At times, it was a little hard to get into - a lot of talking about boxing, which I don't really care too much about, but in the end it was totally worth it for me. I think this is one of the only books that has ever made me cry, meriting the five stars. Something very near the end caught me off guard and really touched me, bringing me to tears. It felt nice to have that happen while reading.

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