The Power of One

ISBN: 034541005X
ISBN 13: 9780345410054
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


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.

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!

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!


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...

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.

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.”


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."


** 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.


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.


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".


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"]>


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.


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.


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.

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