The Power of One

ISBN: 0385732546
ISBN 13: 9780385732543
By: Bryce Courtenay

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Genres

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

Judy

I found this book to be a mixed bag. For example, I loved the story of the main character's relationships with others, particularly with an old German professor who helps to shape his mind. However, I got bored with the focus on boxing, something I have no interest in but which permeated every aspect of the story. I thought the treatment of racial and cultural issues was excellent, especially the insights into struggles among the Boers, Afrikaners, and English settlers. On the other hand, I got tired of the story itself, which had five or six climaxes and denouments. I thought the author's treatment of South African nationalism was very good, and it helped me understand later issues of apartheid and Mandela. On the other hand, I really disliked the end, in which the main character finally gets revenge on a man who had tormented him when he was five years old. I wanted him to find redemption through his power to forgive rather than through the power of his fists. The narrator of the audiobook (which is how I "read" it)has a wonderful Australian accent and is very expressive, but reading this in print form might give you the chance to skip over the endless boxing scenes.

LemonLinda

This is a powerful coming of age novel set in South Africa during WWII and immediately thereafter where the main character and narrator, Peekay, encounters forces good and evil that mold him into the man he is to become. Peekay is brilliant and determined and quite self-sufficient charting his own course with the help of several character building mentors. As the story unfolds and Peekay works to achieve success academically and to become the "welterweight champion of the world", the racial tension and the story of the Africans, the Afrikaners and the Englishmen in South Africa plays a large part in forming Peekay's character. And in all of his fights, literal and otherwise, I was deeply involved and became one of his "people".

Claudia

** spoiler alert ** This book is a wonderful story of the hope and success of an underdog, of relationships breaking barriers of race, age, religion, wealth, and of a boy learning who he is and who he should be. I would really like to rate this book a 4.5. I loved about 500 pages of this book, but was disappointed with the ending. ***SPOILER ALERT*** For most of the book I really thought, this could really happen. And then, to make a "nice ending", of course it all comes full circle in the end and the frayed ends are all knotted. That just doesn't happen. Allowing Peekay to conquer the Judge in one simple fight left me very unsatisfied. The whole book I pulled for him to slowly, bit by bit, mature and conquer his childhood demons. It seems a little trite that with one fight, it's all over. Not to mention that the knife carving in the Judge was way over the top. Made me feel like Courtenay got so deep in the fascinating intricacies of the stories that he couldn't find a way out, got tired of writing, and tossed in that scene so I could get back to the other 15 or so books on my bookshelf... I may be a rare reader in that I would have much preferred being left not knowing what lies ahead for PK with the People, boxing, school, God, his friends, etc., hoping and cheering for him as he moves on to other things in life to continue his quest to discover himself and the world. I strive to be a forgiving soul, though, so I will not let the last 5 pages ruin the glorious journey I enjoyed with PK.

Beem Weeks

During the early years of Hitler's reign of terror, a young orphaned boy in South Africa finds himself a resident of a boarding school run by Afrikaaners. Humiliation and bullying become a way of life for him, especially as England and Germany go to war. But the boy finds friendship in an old German pianist and a black boxing coach who teach him to stand up for himself. This is one of those well-writen novels that is definately worth a read. Bryce Courtenay's characters are solid and memorable, the plot intriguing. The Power of One will have you jumping from anger to joy, and back again.

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.

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.

Alana

** spoiler alert ** Many people have given this book 5 stars, and I really wanted to like it. I tried very hard to love it... but there were some issues that I couldn't get past. ** Lots of spoilers ahead **OK - what I loved about the book - the deep love and respect for Africa, the characterization of the years leading up to Apartheid and how the animosity between English South Africans and Afrikaaners was still so strong so long after the war. I loved the writing style, particularly at the start of the book when I really felt like it had been written by a precocious 7 year-old with a naive view of the world (phrases like "Grandpa Chook thought all his Christmases had come at once!"). And I pretty much loved all the supporting characters, even the bad guys. I really appreciated the way the author gave perspective to the bad guys in the story by giving each a bit of backstory and context in the relationships between Afrikaaners, English and "blacks" (as used in the book).HOWEVER. I couldn't get past all the violence in the book. Now, I know a lot of it was contextual and represents what happened at the time and the world needs to know about the vicious treatment of black Africans during that era. I was fine reading those scenes because I knew they represented real events and even though it's confronting, people like us need to know it happened.What I couldn't stomach was all the boxing and the bullying. OK, I know that was the whole theme of the book. But I can't stand boxing to start with, and the idea of 12 year-olds beating the crap out of each other (inside or outside of an official ring) made me sick. But what made me the most sick was the neglect of Peekay as a tiny 5-7 year old child, being sent to boarding school with no-one to advocate for him, and I think the worst part of that whole period of the book was not so much the bullying at the school (which was horrible) but the fact that his mother (who had apparently recovered enough from her nervous breakdown by then to come home) and grandfather expected a 6-year-old boy to make a 2-DAY TRAIN TRIP BY HIMSELF??????? That to me was almost the most shocking and gut-wrenching part of the book. Of course, being the hero, he made it just fine, but in real life that child would have been abducted faster than you can say "unaccompanied minor". The very notion gave me the creeps, and there wasn't anything that his mother or grandfather did later in the book to make up for it.I also didn't like that the final scene was a vicious, torturous revenge act (against the Judge) - I thought that was completely unnecessary and showed that he hadn't learned a thing from any of his mentors. How was that act "first with the head, then with the heart"?And another thing - it's supposed to be all about "The Power of One", but that kid wouldn't have made it anywhere without all his mentors, from the first train conductor to Doc and all his teachers. It should be called "The Power of Having a Great Team to Back You Up".One thing I really loved though, is that I listened to the book on audiobook, and it was narrated by Humphrey Bower who was brilliant. He mastered all the various accents (boer, english south african, german, proper british, zulu, etc) in such a wonderful way that I couldn't help but keep listening. I think it may be one of the few books in which I loved the narration but wasn't that impressed with the story.

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!

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.

Heidi

It is to my greatest upset that it took me 28 years to find this book. Clearly the author was inspired in writing this novel. It is a beautiful piece of literature detailing a young and severly disadvantaged boy in South Africa who learns that through his own strength and intelligence, he can be a source of good and serve as a blessing to his people. It is a remarkable read.

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"]>

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.

Megan

I had high hopes for this book, but in the end was a little disappointed. It seems towards the end of the book he lost track of where he was going with it all and just ended it, although maybe this says more about my lack of getting his point than it does about his writing style. One thing he does have though is energy, and that helped in keeping me interested. I also think the "power of one" is a rather funny concept considering the main character, Peekay, who supposedly possesses (or cultivates) this power owes much of it all to the support he has from many friends, mostly adults. People who took the time and energy and love to support him and promote him, mind, body, and spirit. His power of one is only possible from the love and care of many. And it makes me sad that the story ended with a story of revenge, i think it cheapens the story. So, to conclude all of these random comments, I think that the story had a lot of potential and there were some good things about it, but I think it could have been better executed and I'm not quite sure I agree with the philosophy behind the whole thing.

Norah Carroll

This is my boyfriend's favorite book, and I promised him I would read it in November 2011. It has been eighteen months since I made that promise, and since then I've picked up and set down The Power of One on at least four occasions. It wasn't until I reached the last third of the book that I found the story compelling enough to keep my attention.My biggest issue with the novel was the disproportionate amount of the book dedicated to telling the story of Peekay's early childhood. At times, the author went into so much detail that the story felt bogged down, and I fought paragraph by paragraph to advance to the next part of the story. In the end, I made it through the novel only by marking every twenty pages with a post-it note and assigning 20-page sections to myself each day.In retrospect, I appreciate the story for the work it does in telling the story of Peekay's relationships with the adults in his life who support him, characters who dedicate themselves almost entirely to his growth and success, characters I liked far more than the protagonist. These characters lived at the heart of the story, and their admiration (and often, reverence) for Peekay was satisfying if exaggerated.Not since high school have I gotten more pleasure out of having read a book than actually reading it, but I'm no worse for wear. And at least I kept my promise to my boyfriend!

Deanne

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.

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