Molly's Reviews

The Power of One: condensed versionThe Power of One: condensed version
Bryce Courtenay
Line/Delacorte Press: Random House

Entertaining Read ... Recommended ... 4 stars

The narrative opens in Northern Transvaal, South Africa. It is 1939. Tracing the experiences of Peekay, an English-speaking South African youngster beginning at age five to age eleven (the original version continues to age seventeen). Following his mother’s nervous breakdown, the five-year-old Peekay is cared for by his Zulu nanny Mary Mandoma and his Grandfather on a farm in the province of Natal. He is sent to an Afrikaans boarding school, where--as the youngest of all the scholars, and the only English-speaking pupil --he is brutalized by the other boys. He is subjected to both physical and verbal abuse by The Judge, a senior boy called Jaapie Botha, and his cohorts the "stormtroopers". Adding to Peekay’s misery, rather than offering comfort, Mevrou, the Afrikaans woman who runs the boarding house, stalks around waving her "sjambok" (cane stick).

Granpa Chook one of Inkosi-Inkosikazi, the great Zulu medicine man 's ‘magic chicken’, and an independent spirit the shaman refers to as the "power of one" return to school with Peekay for second term. Grandpa Chook turns into Peekay's only friend at school. Mevrou allows Grandpa Chook to live in the kitchen where he eats cockroaches. Peekay does well at school, however it is safer to hide his intelligence. At the end of the school year the Judge kills Granpa Chook with a catapult. Aggrieved, Peekay longs to go home to Nanny. But Mevrou tells him that he is to meet his Granpa in the Eastern Transvaal town of Barberton. The tale continues with Doc a German music professor, in his 80s who befriends Peekay, Miss Bornstein young Jewish woman who teaches at the Barberton primary school and becomes a mentor to Peekay, and Hoppie Groenewald one of the guards on Peekay's Barberton train. Peekay learns to box, exacts retribution for Granpa Chook’s death and faces becoming an adult with knowledge that he can do whatever he sets his mind to doing.

On the pages of The Power of One: condensed version, Writer Courtenay has produced a fast paced work peopled with larger than life characters. Many are inspirational, however many are most unlikeable. All are believable. The ones we like, we really like, the ones we find awful are truly terrible. Dialogue is hard hitting, gritty and at times difficult to read. Set against a backdrop of misery and wretchedness the tale rushes from one painful scene to the next. Then to help us relax a little we find ourselves reading a delightful moment in the life of Peekay. Writing is well done, moves right along and presents the reader a tantalizing peek into a world which most of us have had little awareness even existed.

Peekay is a spunky survivor who successfully makes it through an appalling interval of his life. During school vacations, Peekay meets various people, black and white who have great influence upon him and enlighten him to work hard in order to fulfill his dreams. The Power of One is a coming of age story of a young white child living during World War II and the hurdles he faces in South Africa. It is a time epidemic with racial discrimination and hatred. It is a book filled with inspiration, friendship, overcoming obstacles and self-discovery.

Excellent book for reading on a hot summer day. The Power of One: condensed version is a good addition to the personal reading shelf, home school or classroom library and book to pick up for a good rousing read.

Enjoyed the read, happy to recommend. I was sent a hard back copy by publisher for the review.




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© 2006 by Molly Martin