The Power of One

ISBN: 034541005X
ISBN 13: 9780345410054
By: Bryce Courtenay

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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

Kathy

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

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.

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.”

Stupac

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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