The Power of One

ISBN: 1876584858
ISBN 13: 9781876584856
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

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

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!!

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.

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.

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.

Heather W

One of my favorite books! This is a truly inspirational historical fiction about of boyhood in South Africa at the birth of apartheid. Follow the life of a British child who comes of age amidst resentful Boers who are recovering from their own persecution while simultaneously championing the causes of Hitler in Germany. This precocious boy struggles to understand the clash of races and racism while simultaneously overcoming boundaries through the medium of competitive boxing.One perhaps could make the arguement that a tinge of racism lingers in the storyline itself due to the fact that the main character, a white boy, becomes the perceived savior and idol of the native African tribesmen (sort of like Ben Kingsley, a Brit, portraying Gandhi onscreen). However, it is still a wonderful book in which the reader becomes immersed in the story, place and time.

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!

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.

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.

Rebecca Fjelland Davis

I can't remember how many times I've read this book. The voice Bryce Courtenay uses to tell this epic South African story makes me laugh, hold my breath, and shed a tear, even after all these reads. The first time I read this was probably nearly twenty years ago. It's remained on my top-ten-favorite-book list ever since. I've also wanted to go to South Africa ever since. Now I finally get to. I am taking students this May, and the class is reading the book in preparation (we'll also read Kaffir Boy, Africans and Americans, and Coetzee's Disgrace). I guess what I want to say is that this story is touching and inspiring, graphic and gentle, violent and peaceful, and though it's long, the pages fly by. I think it's something that every citizen of the world ought to read. Courtenay died in November. That makes me sad...but it makes me glad to be rereading this novel as a kind of lasting tribute to a wonderful writer.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Brad

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.

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