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The Power of One
by Bryce Courtenay

About the Author
Bryce Courtnay was born in South Africa, educated there and in England and, in 1958, emigrated to Australia. He is creative director at George Patterson Advertising and lives in Sydney. THE POWER OF ONE is his first novel.
10/15/98 3:00:00 PM 11/3/98 4:00:12 AM
THE POWER OF ONE by Bryce Courtenay

Peekay is not your normal kid. Some of you sure seem a bit put out that he is so precocious. The way I look at it is this: the story is told when Peekay is grown, so we see five-year-old Peekay, not from a young kidís perspective, but from an twenty-something (or older) perspective. I was caught up in the sweep of the story, the views of the landscape and the boxing scenes which were riveting and showed Peekayís true intelligence. I know Iíll have a different view of boxing from now on. I think my favorite part of the book is the train ride where he meets Hoppy and gets lots of good food to eat and green and yellow and orange suckers. After such a terrible experience at the boarding school, it was such a relief to see something good happen to him. It was also interesting to see the ways he camouflaged himself. I know that camouflaging yourself with being the best can happen in real life, and can be a lonely experience. Iíve known people like that. I think the book did take on a braggy kind of tone sometimes, but I forgave Courtenay. I wondered if there was anything autobiographical about this book, but from what Iíve found out on the web (which is not much), heís considered an Australian author. Maybe I didnít know where to look.
So what do you all think? I actually finished it last night, but I wonít say anything about the ending, because I know few of you have gotten that far.

10/15/98 8:29:35 PM 11/3/98 4:00:12 AM
I am enjoying this book, as I have already posted on the other thread. You mentioned the ""braggy"" tone. Well, I find some parts to be a bit ""preachy"" in that Courtenay is trying to tell us all how to succeed in life. After all, if little Peekay can do it, why can't we? I remember hearing the title of this book several years ago, and at that time, I thought it was a self-help book. I guess it is, but at least the advice is embedded in a great story. I was carrying the book around with me today, and although I didn't get time to read, several of my students walked by when I was on hall duty and saw the book. Two of the girls told me that they wanted to read it because they had seen the movie, and ""Steven Dorff was so cute in it!!""
Jane who hasn't reached page 200 yet
10/16/98 10:48:52 PM 11/14/98 4:00:03 AM
I don't know if I said that Peekay seemed precocious to me; if I did I used the wrong word. Really the parts with him at the youngest ages are just unrealistic.

It isn't a problem of the academic superiority, that happens all the time, in any city or country. This could sound strange, but it was the fact of his superiority across the board, combined with maturity way beyond his years. (I know Peekay pointed out repeatedly that he didn't have natural talent at piano, but IMO, he still excelled at that, too. He started lessons very young and continued them for years.)

So, maybe it should be credited to the story being told in retrospect, but that was not how I read it. So, I really settled into the book a bit later, after he has started boxing. I never considered stopping; it is a good read, and there's a little bit of everything in there: Coming of age, boxing, music, racism, politics, religion, economics, nature. The way it delved into all these areas in detail reminded me of The Fall of a Sparrow.

Good choice for the group, and another impressive first novel. I loved how he drew the mother, she was a trip! Were you happy with the ending?

10/17/98 9:27:55 AM 11/15/98 4:00:12 AM
Yes, I loved the way he drew the mother, too. Very realistic, actually. He had all the words just right. I found it interesting that he had a mother and a grandfather, but those two had little to do with his development--or his affection. They were just there. He loved them, but he really didn't need them much.
You asked me if I liked the end of the book.

Well, I'm not sure. I was surprised in a way that I actually felt sorry for the Judge. It seems to me that if Peekay had really learned the Power of One, he wouldn't have needed to thrash Botha. I knew I had heard that name before when it came up in the mines, and wasn't really surprised at who he was, though thought it was coincidental, sort of Dickensian. Cutting his name into the tattoo made me flinch. I can understand it on a storytelling level, but on a personal level, I was a little disappointed in Peekay.
10/17/98 3:14:50 PM 11/15/98 4:00:12 AM
I first read this book several years ago. While I had a poor memory for the story line, I did have certain images that stuck with me over the years, and reading it again reinforced what was magical to me: the chicken Grampa Chook, who Peekay loved and who was such an unlikely loyal pet; the image of Geel Piet dying at the hands of the prison guard; the image of Doc and the crystal cave; the final scene.

Peekay's unusual childhood & the notion of his ""bragging"" never bothered me. Told in retrospect, his image of himself grew. That he survived such an unusual childhood is amazing enough to me. I think that despite the concept of ""the power of one"", the deep hurts from childhood are rarely put aside completely and are often dealt with in ways one could regret later. He was, after all, only 18 or so at the end.

His relationship with Morrie, and all their exploits, seemed a tad preposterous to me, but it was fun reading. I'm happy to say I liked this book nearly as much on the second go-round.

Apparently Courtenay wrote a sequel to this called TANDIA, which is out of print. His last book, APRIL FOOLS (or something) is a memoir of his hemophiliac son, who died of AIDS on April Fools Day. I've read varying reviews, but most people thought he would've had a better story if he'd waited for the rawness of his grief to subside.

Back to TPOO, what I would've given for a mentor like Doc when I was young. Someone to teach me the powers of observation and critical thinking...That was such a wonderful relationship.

10/17/98 11:24:48 PM 11/15/98 4:00:13 AM
I was going to compose a thoughtful post offline, but I just can't resist jumping in here. First of all, the book was a darn good read. Well written, everything flowed along well, nothing awkward. I enjoyed most of it.

But I do have to side with Tonya. Peekay was just a little too much for me to believe. The first part was fine. And I, too, loved Grampa Chook. But Peekay's turnaround was a little too precipitous, and a little too complete for me to swallow. And then, with success after success, I began to choke.

Could this kid do no wrong? It was just too much. The most egregious part was the friendship with the Jewish boy (Morris?) and all their high-flying plots. Give me a break. But even if that had been left out, I still would have had a hard time.

I liked Peekay. In my heart, I wanted him to succeed, but you can't convince me that one scrawny little kid can be a boxing champ, an magnificently gifted scholar, a gambling schemer, a more than adequate pianist, a bringer of light to an entire prison of grown men, a cactus expert, a mining detonation expert and a semi-diety to the down-trodden blacks.... Have I left anything out?

Still, it was, as I said, a good read. And full of interesting stuff about South Africa. On the whole, I enjoyed it. I just think it could have used an editor to thin out some of the successes.

10/18/98 12:55:25 AM 11/15/98 4:00:13 AM
Sherry (and others),
The ending was a let down for me in a completely different way. I knew from the time the Judge killed Granpa Chook, these two would meet again, when Peekay was more prepared. And I really didn't mind that when they finally did, Peekay beat the crap of Botha. What really bothered me was this:

I felt clean, all the bone-beaked loneliness birds banished, their rocky nests turned to river stones. Cool clear water bubbled over them, streams in the desert.

So that, in order to heal that old scar in his psyche, it didn't matter that Peekay had rec'd enormous love and support from almost every direction. Made no difference that he had achieved every goal he set for himself. Only mattered that he saw this guy again, and beat him. Now, I don't care that it happened, and I can see why it would feel real good to Peekay. I just care that it apparently healed all the years of pent up resentment and hatred all at once. BAM! You're well and whole again.

It's possible that that is his feeling of the moment. This is where the book leaves off, but of course it leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Peekay will sail through Oxford on his own terms, become the boxing champion, and in general continue to succeed and conquer without that baggage ever bothering him again. Maybe the sequel proceeds in a different direction, but I can't imagine Peekay as anything except a winner at everything.

Tonya (who rented the movie this afternoon. But I haven't watched it yet.)
10/18/98 8:13:42 AM 11/16/98 4:00:08 AM
You know, I just slid over those lines without their making much of an impression on me, but you're right. That did seem like a pretty mystical spin put on beating the crap out of somebody. The ironic part is that the Power of One, of being independent of others, reaching inside, etc., whatever that power implied, was not what saved Peekay, it was the power of many. The love and support of others. Nanny, Hoppy, Doc, Giel Piet, Morrie, the librarian, the teacher he was in love with who sent him notes, the big guy who killed himself saving Peekay in the mines. Without any one of these people he would never have been able to achieve what he did.
But I did love the story, even with all of the excess of success.
The part of the movie that I remember most was the singing. It's harder for me to imagine beautiful music than to imagine beautiful scenery. So descriptions of sound are not as potent as the sound itself, but descriptions of place can be imagined and enjoyed almost as much as being there.
10/18/98 9:37:43 AM 11/16/98 4:00:09 AM
greetings to all in our UNIQUE COMMUNITY OF CR'S..

i read the POWER OF ONE eons ago ..and liked it so much i affixed it to our COVER TO COVER book discussion list..

my women disliked the book.. oh maybe one or two liked it.. but they ripped it to shreds.. i forgot the session.....and what was actually discussed....

i found a second read difficult...

i must say i enjoyed reading it the first time and am delighted most of you are enjoying it...

gail..hp..a p r in the midst of TINIMISA...for class next week ..then MENDEL'S DWARF by simon mawer...discussion on PAUL THEROUX and his article and book ..referring to V.S. NAUIPAL....

awaiting all the short listed books to arrive. exciting!
10/18/98 1:37:24 PM 11/16/98 4:00:09 AM
Ironic is putting it mildly. Still, I'm with you: I enjoyed this book a lot. But unlike you, I think the most memorable scene was the concert at the prison. It was beautiful.

I started watching the movie this morning, and I don't honestly know if I'll be able to finish it. Everything in the movie is changed, from where Peekay got his nickname, to Granpa Chook's name, and, believe it or not, in the movie, Peekay's mother dies while he's at boarding school! Also, there's a ton of voice over narration. It's pretty much a mess of a movie so far - and I think it probably would be whether or not you'd read the book.

10/25/98 10:06:48 PM 11/23/98 4:00:12 AM
Well, I'm just a bit behind the rest of you, but I finally finished this 518 page book today. This book was tremendously readable. It's been awhile since I read a book where the good guy always wins and the bad guys get what they deserve in the end. Sometimes this was carried to extremes, as when the prison guard who killed Geel Piet by ramming a baton up his rectum died of rectal cancer. But, in a lot of ways, it was very satisfying.

I also thoroughly enjoyed reading about the physical setting of this book. South Africa has been added to my long list of TBS (to be seen) places, which may be even longer than my TBR list. Surprisingly, I also enjoyed the parts of the book relating to boxing, a sport which I have always found quite horrifying. (Just remember to go for that place under the heart. It gets them every time).

Of course, the book had its weaknesses, most of which have been pointed out. The part dealing with Peekay's early childhood was best, although it left the reader with some unanswered questions. A couple that really bothered me were: What was this kid's real name anyway? Was his father never mentioned because he was illegitimate?
I thought the book probably should have ended with Doc's release from prison. Themes were developed that were never resolved, primarily Peekay's obsession with becoming the welterweight champion of the world and his role as white savior of black Africans. Courtney apparently left these to the sequel. The book became a less interesting after Peekay went to the English boarding school. There wasn't enough conflict or hardship to propel the story naturally. Like most of you, I got tired of him winning all of the time.

The final section of the book, dealing with the loss of the Rhodes scholarship and his experience in the mines really grabbed my interest again -- finally at least some temporary failure for this too perfect man-child. I have to admit, I never did understand exactly what Peekay's job entailed but I found the descriptions of the life style of the miners fascinating. Courtney did a good job of building up the suspense to the accident. As for the ending, I thought it was completely in character with the rest of the story that Peekay would meet up with the Judge again and beat him to a bloody pulp. However, I have to admit that I was truly shocked when Peekay carved his initials into his arm. The thought occurred to me that perhaps this ""power of one"" philosophy was not all it was cracked up to be, or that Peekay had some very dark depths I had not yet begun to fathom.

Sherry, you made some excellent comments about this book really being about the power of many, rather than the power of one. Peekay rebelled against the pressure of their expectations towards the end, but what would he have been without the support of the many adults who helped him throughout this book?

Anne, was it you who recommended this book? If so, thank you for a very enjoyable reading experience. This is another book that I would never have found on my own. When we were at the CR convention in Denver last year, I think we both bought journalist Peter Godwin's MUKIWA, THE STORY OF A WHITE BOY IN AFRICA (hope I have that subtitle right). Did you get a chance to read it? I thought it was excellent. I couldn't put it down as a matter of fact.

10/27/98 10:22:26 AM 11/25/98 4:00:10 AM
Yes, I nominated this book last year. Though it did not hit me as hard as it did the first go-round, I found it to be enjoyable, nonetheless.

I haven't read the Peter Godwin book yet. I need to find it. Last I saw, it was in Mexico, where Tim was reading it (he didn't finish it...not his genre of books, sad to say.)

So, did he bring it home, or did he leave it behind with his credit card number, which has been widely used in the country. Without our approval, I must add... Oh well. Yes, I do plan on reading the Godwin book. I'm fascinated with the South Africa stories. Nadine Gordimer is on my list, too, for that area.

10/27/98 8:37:34 PM 11/25/98 4:00:11 AM
Hi Anne,
Thanks for nominating this book. I am enjoying it very much and hope to finish by Thursday. But, I may not be able to post because our new computer is supposed to arrive tomorrow. Then, we will be canceling P* and going with a new service. I have asked Thom Hanser to circulate my new e-mail address. Gosh, I am feeling weepy about cutting the string.
10/28/98 5:45:54 PM 11/26/98 4:26:57 AM
How come in this world where anything is possible, we find it so hard to believe someone can be lucky all their life? In spite of how unlikely that seemed it was a good story. Absoloodle!

Barb Hill
10/28/98 6:42:17 PM 11/26/98 4:26:57 AM
I really liked Nadine Gordimer's A SPORT OF NATURE. It's pretty heavy duty, so be forewarned.

10/28/98 8:40:01 PM 11/26/98 4:26:58 AM
Ann, Happy Birthday, a day late!
I have almost finished the book. I like the way BC portrays the black Africans because it reminds me of the people of Gabon where I spent part of my childhood. They were a gentle people and they truly loved a white person who was nice to them. When my father first went there in 1957, Gabon was a French colony, and some of the French men insisted on being carried around in a ""tepoy"" chair. The Gabonese loved my father and would come up to our house in the middle of the night to have him settle family disputes. I think that BC does a good job of capturing this attitude with the Tadpole Angel story. Perhaps, they were so used to being abused by white people that it was a miracle to them when someone treated them with respect. Jane
10/28/98 8:45:52 PM 11/26/98 4:26:58 AM
I've been pondering the ""power of one"" versus the ""power of many"" notion for the past day or so. It seems to me that a person can have many wonderful, intense, and giving support systems in his/her life, but if that singular drive or determination to excel (or to take advantage of said systems) is missing, then there is nothing extra special. Yes, Peekay's life was tremendously enhanced by the power of several individuals, but were it not for his intensity and focus on his ultimate goal, their efforts would have seemed less remarkable.

Maybe it took the power of many to allow Peekay to realize the power of one at such an early age. He had the spark, they helped put the match to it...

10/29/98 1:47:35 AM 11/26/98 4:26:59 AM
Today I had the radio on during an interview with David Remnick about his new book, King of the World, and I was so completely drawn into his description of the first Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston bout that I almost failed to realize the undeniable similarity to Peekay's first match with the larger fellow, when he danced around and ducked everything the other guy threw until he wore him out completely. It just astounds me that reading about a boxing match or listening to a description of a match can be so completely engrossing, but watching it just seems so barbaric!

Anyway, I got the distinct impression that if you have even just a fleeting interest in boxing in general, or Ali in particular, this book is probably wonderful. I was stuck in the car for the duration of the interview.

As to The Power of One, I thought the book was a great read, and I think I made that clear before I mentioned any reservations. Absoloodle. I rented the movie the weekend after I finished the book, and while it was pretty disappointing in such close comparison with the book, at the end there was a quote that explained the concept of the power of one, to the effect that when the many work together, they can bring about the power of one. I can't recall a similar quote in the book, but hearing it in the movie, it made perfect sense.

10/29/98 8:58:03 PM 11/27/98 4:00:10 AM
Dear CR's,
I went back and read all of your comments about this book. I love Sherry's statement about The Power of Many. I thought how very lucky Peekay was to run into a man like Hoppie who took him under his care after Peekay's horrible experience at the first boarding school.

One part that I loved and that was a returning thread in this book was the power of the mind. When the witch doctor came to visit Peekay to cure his ""night waters"" problem, he gave Peekay the power to use his mind to visualize himself in a calm and peaceful setting. I have used this technique myself when things have upset me at work. The thought of a waterfall is so soothing.
Jane who will probably off the air for a few days
10/30/98 6:39:43 AM 11/28/98 4:00:06 AM
Yes, Jane, meditation and imagery are powerful tools. I've used them, too, in times of stress, or times where I just wanted to understand myself better. I'm fascinated by the mind and the real power it can have.
Does anyone know anything about the author, Bryce Courtenay? Everything I've seen about him on the web says he's Australian. But he had such a way of describing South Africa that I was sure he must have lived there.
10/30/98 9:56:32 AM 11/28/98 4:00:06 AM
From my copy of The Power of One:

About the Author
Bryce Courtnay was born in South Africa, educated there and in England and, in 1958, emigrated to Australia. He is creative director at George Patterson Advertising and lives in Sydney. THE POWER OF ONE is his first novel.

This book was tremendously readable. It's been awhile since I read a book where the good guy always wins and the bad guys get what they deserve in the end.
It seems to me that a person can have many wonderful, intense, and giving support systems in his/her life, but if that singular drive or determination to excel (or to take advantage of said systems) is missing, then there is nothing extra special. Yes, Peekay's life was tremendously enhanced by the power of several individuals, but were it not for his intensity and focus on his ultimate goal, their efforts would have seemed less remarkable.


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