The Power of One

ISBN: 1876584858
ISBN 13: 9781876584856
By: Bryce Courtenay

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About this book

No stranger to the injustice of racial hatred, five-year-old Peekay learns the hard way the first secret of survival and self-preservation - the power of one. An encounter with amateur boxer Hoppie Groenewald inspires in Peekay a fiery ambition - to be welterweight champion of the world.

Reader's Thoughts


** 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.


When talking about The Power of One, it is easy to be distracted by "the power of one" itself and place ultimate importance on Peekay's slippery personal philosophy. But to do so to the exclusion of all else but racism is to read only a small portion of Bryce Courtenay's masterwork.The Power of One also deals with class, religion, science, obsession, faith vs. reason, objectivism, homosocial intimacy, and in one of the finest literary expressions of its kind, the importance of violence.Peekay's use of violence is controlled and seemingly benevolent, but he doesn't just use violence, he needs violence. It is the very basis of his obsession with becoming the Welterweight Champion of the World. It is at the root of everything he fights for and against. And it is the question and the answer to the defining struggle of Peekay's life.One need only look to the final pages of The Power of One for the answer to the question. Peekay savagely destroys Botha, the Judge that started him on the road to violence; while Peekay is violent in self defense, he perpetrates his violence with a ruthlessness and controlled savagery that dwarfs any of his childhood persecutions at the Judge's hands. The final, brutal mutilation of Botha -- an act that likely raises few eyebrows amongst readers directed as it is at a symbol we consider pure evil -- is an overtly violent catharsis that brings peace to Peekay's spirit (but not an end to his need for violence). It is difficult to see Peekay's conquering of Botha as anything but just. Not only is Botha responsible for the abuse that dehumanized Peekay as a child (although Botha was a child himself at the time of the abuse) and about to take Peekay's life, but Courtenay overdetermines Botha's desert by making him a branded acolyte of Adolph Hitler, a Nazi racist who is apparently beyond redemption.But beneath and behind this easy rationalization of Peekay's violence is an important commentary on our need for violence.Violence isn't something that we need to erase from human behavior because we actually need it -- especially on a personal level where it is most in danger of being sterilized from our lives (already it is only an appropriate response in our popular mythology). Violence is something we need to control and embrace and realize is part of who we are as humans. Violence is essential to both men and women. Violence is an integral part of our humanity.Violence of the kind Peekay engages in against Botha serves several purposes: it is defensive; it is purifying; it is redemptive; it is responsible; it is empowering; and it is healing.Many find themselves supporting Peekay's actions without a second thought. But were a similar situation to play out in our North American reality, Peekay would find himself going to prison for a very long time, and most would agree that while he was defending himself at first, Peekay took things too far and deserves to be punished. Amongst its many concerns, The Power of One tells us that we need to reconsider our personal relationship with violence. It reminds us that we need to keep violence as a tool of our own, rather than passing it off as a tool for our governments, our armies, or any other persecutors who may use it against us. And so long as we use violence "first with our head, then with our heart" it can lead to positive change. Even if we never use violence ourselves, however, even if we only admit that we are violent animals who need violence as deeply as we need love making or tenderness, even if all we do is recognize its place in our human natures, we can start to overcome things that before we simply let overcome us.


** 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.


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...


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.


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.


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!!


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.


Where, oh where do I start with this review? I noticed a few months ago that this book kept appearing in others' Favorites lists, impressed that it has such a following after 20 years. My overall verdict is that I derived some enjoyment from reading the book, at least in parts, but found it to be incredibly lacking and frustrating in others. Part of my issue with this book was that it was just plain written wrong. Not necessarily badly, just wrong. Had the entire story been written by a more adept author, it would have been, first, believable, and second, influential. *SPOILER ALERT!*When I started reading the story, I found the main character, Peekay, endearing. He was just the type of character that makes a book vivid and appealing. I enjoyed the beginning stories of Peekay and Nanny, of Peekay and Grandpa Chook, of the horrible Judge and Jury at boarding school, and especially enjoyed Peekay's introduction to boxing by Hoppie. But as soon as Peekay had his life's ambition set in stone (to be the Welterweight Champion of the World), my issues with the story began in earnest. I started with these questions:What was the purpose in Peekay's name? (The reader doesn't really find out. It's a gimmick. I think the author wanted the reader to divine that Peekay chose his own path, and thus his own name, his strange name of Peekay sets him apart from others and it's supposed to give weight to The Power of One title. All of these literary tools are fine and good when done correctly. Courtenay just doesn't deliver here.As I moved through the book, I started tallying up everything that Peekay could do (and do amazingly), and those things he failed at. Let's see:He had a magical chicken.He easily recognizes and can verbalize his distrust of Evangelicalism, and makes conscious decisions about his religious beliefs (starting at what, age 5?)He befriends much older people than himself and essentially lives in their world as a peer.He becomes an expert on succulents.He is by far the best student at school.He recognizes the cruelty inherent in Apartheid and racisim, despite being raised by a cooky Evangelical mother and incommunicative grandfather.He has an innate ability to connect with people of all races. Going along with this:He can speak about, oh, 5 different languages fluently.He is able to relate with prisoners and vice versa.He develops a highly functional letter-writing and smuggling operation in the prison.He finds the Crystal Cave of Africa with his best friend, Doc, who is about 80 years old. I can't even get into the whole "Crystal Cave of Africa" commentary. What was that about? Doc composes a piece that unites all the African tribes of prisoner in joyous song, a feat which Peekay instigated and the piece later becomes basically the "anthem" of Africa.He is essentially a Jesus like figure to the African people the entire way through the book. He is accepted into the elite academic team called "Sinjun's People" - there is no point to this story in the book, for it adds nothing to the mix aside from one more example of how amazing Peekay is.He is an excellent rugby player.He is an excellent chess player.He starts a school of literacy for black Africans.He can debate with his friend Morrie in the same unbelievable way that the Dawson's Creek kids could speak way too well for their age.He is naturally an expert mine worker.He wins EVERY SINGLE BOXING MATCH he has ever been in.He fails at nothing. These are just a sample of my observations (there is a word limit on these reviews).I was quickly tired of all these amazing things that Peekay could do, or be, or amount to. I was increasingly frustrated with Courtenay’s unforgivable mistakes. If only he had not written it in first person. If you have 500 pages of a small boy telling you how amazing he is, and how he is a legend to the people of Africa, then you start to think him a bit big for his britches. I felt like Courtenay had just read A Prayer for Owen Meany and decided to write a book about a smaller-than-average boy dealing with injustices and obstacles, who nonetheless overcomes his situation. (Is it a coincidence that Owen Meany was also published in 1989?) But the difference is that Owen Meany was written in third person. And it was written by Irving, who knows how to write about a savior-like figure and legend without instilling disbelief in the reader. And Irving doesn't choose such a predicable, non-descript title for his books, either. "The Power of One" could be the title to any Barnes & Noble featured self-help book on improving your self-image. It's a ridiculous concept for a boy of 5 to grasp and work toward all his life. And it's a crummy title for a fictional book.Finally, the ending. Oh, the ending. I sensed that Courtenay was done writing about Peekay, so he just gave up. He sent Peekay off to work in the mines. Peekay almost gets killed but miraculously doesn't. Frankly, I was wishing he would be killed because at least that ending would have reinforced the entire 500 page theme of "Peekay as a martyr for the African people." Oh wait - that would have been way too dangerously close to plagiarizing Owen Meany. So instead Peekay is recovering from the accident and, in the final pages of the book, encounters a crazed Botho, ironically the man on the other end of Peekay's extraordinary mining work - the man that has reaped the rewards and riches of Peekay's fantastic ability in the mines. Botho is out to kill Peekay (only because he is drug induced by the fumes of the mines) and, surprise, surprise, turns out to be the former childhood bully of Peekay's; the individual whose terror upon Peekay spawned the concept of "The Power of One" - to overcome adversity, depending only upon yourself. What irony - Peekay and "The Judge" (Botho) meet again in such circumstances! Once again, Courtenay has the chance to really set the story on edge and have Botho kill Peekay, thus shattering all hope of Peekay being the most amazing person that ever lived. Our fearless Peekay instead beats Botho to a pulp. And the book ends.That's it, it's over. All this talk about his number one goal of being Welterweight Champion of World. Courtenay doesn't even give the reader the courtesy of telling us how he accomplishes the goal.This book got me more worked up than others I have read, for the simple fact that the story really did have potential. It was a worthy piece of fiction that was destroyed by ineptitude. What a shame.


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"]>

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!


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.


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.

Mason Wiebe

At least 3 people I know have told me that this is their favorite book, so I just had to give it a read. It is really, really good. The book follows a young man, Peekay, as he grows up in South Africa in the 30s and 40s. He meets a series of very influential adults and is constantly being shaped by them and also by his many differing experiences growing up. The one theme that stays true throughout is his desire to become the welterweight boxing champion of the world. This is the kind of book that you find yourself not wanting to put down and you miss it when you aren’t reading it. I definitely recommend this book to anyone at all. While I won’t list it as my favorite, it is definitely one of my favorites.“Always listen to yourself. It is better to be wrong than to simply follow convention. If you are wrong, no matter, you have learned something and you will grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step towards a fulfilling life.”“…God is too busy making the sun come up and go down and watching so the moon floats just right in the sky to be concerned with such rubbish. Only man wants always God should be there to condemn this one and save that one. Always it is man who wants to make heaven and hell. God is too busy training the bees to make honey and every morning opening up all the new flowers for business… In Mexico there is a cactus that even sometimes you would think God forgets. But no, my friend, this is not so. On a full moon in the desert every one hundred years he remembers and he opens up a single flower to bloom. And if you should be there and you see this beautiful cactus blossom painted silver by the moon and laughing up at the stars, this is heaven…This is the faith in God the cactus has… It is better just to get on with the business of living and minding your own business and maybe, if God likes the way you do things, he may just let you flower for a day or a night. But don’t go pestering and begging and telling him all your stupid little sins, that way you will spoil his day.”“…in this world are very few things made from logic alone. It is illogical for a man to be too logical. Some things we must just let stand. The mystery is more important than any possible explanation. The searcher after truth must search with humanity. Ruthless logic is the sign of a limited mind. The truth can only add to the sum of what you know, while a harmless mystery left unexplored often adds to the meaning of life. When a truth is not so important, it is better left as a mystery.”“The mind is the athlete; the body is simply the means it uses to run faster or longer, jump higher, shoot straighter, kick better, swim harder, hit further, or box better. “First with the head and then with the heart” was more than simply mixing brains with guts. It meant thinking well beyond the powers of normal concentration and then daring your courage to follow your thoughts.”

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