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The Power of One

 

Bryce Courtenay
Contemporary Fiction

Ballantine Books
Published 1989
ISBN: 0345-41005X

Ah, what a delight! This is the second time I have read this novel described as "The Classic Novel of South Africa" since it was first published. Bryce Courtenay is writer extraordinaire who manages to convey the poetic prose, music, mythology, psychology, religious diversity, yes and more - the very essence or soul of contemporary Africa. A coming of age tale, these 500 plus pages will enchant every reader and make you laugh, weep and praise the dignity of every human being who strives to live from that "higher" place of one's being.

Peekay, the main character, is born in the very late 1930's to English parents, the very same English or hated rooinek responsible for sending thousands of Boer War Afrikaaners to their death in concentration camps. Nursed by a "colored" woman and nurtured on the tales of African warriors and workers, Peekay or Pisskop (as he is known in his school days) receives the charm of the Inkosi Inkosikazi. Experiencing the vision of this charm, he discovers the "power of one" which will enable him to become a renowned boxer, a scholarly student and a friend to all he meets. The difficulties he encounters, however, are not the "stuff" of this story's magic; rather, the people and spirits who arrive in a timely fashion to help shape this young boy and young man's personality. Therein is conveyed the magic of Africa known through it's spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental truths that rise above the "sjambok" oppression, dignity-defying laws denying intellectual learning, Afrikaaner vs. English superiority, religious but hypocritical fervor of fundamentalists, and boxing techniques lacking head and heart balance.

Meet Granpa Chook, a most unusual chicken who embodies the "fighting" spirit, Hoppie who teaches Peekay to fight with his head and heart, Doc who lives and teaches the love of the African land in all its wondrous botanical and geological beauty as well as a piercing honesty and analytical surveying of all experience, Geel Piet who embodies and teaches how to fight and love while using and surmounting a terrifyingly absolute rejection, and numerous other characters who flesh out the virtues and vices within every facet of life and learning.

Yes, Peekay is truly the "spirit" of Africa, to be reverenced as its natives do in music and word.

The movie version of this book carries about 25% of its spirit, failing to convey the mysteries and splendor Peekay sweeps into the reader's life.

Bryce Courtenay, an Australian writer (born in Africa), has indeed written a "Classic" novel. Read it and know that truly great literature is a rare, but oh so splendid and joyful experience.

This reviewer cannot form adequate words to laud this tribute to "the power of one" available to every human being!

 

 

 

Reviewed by Viviane Crystal

e-mail to: literarymuse@hotmail.com