The Power of One

The Power of One

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Overview

"Unabashedly uplifting."
THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
Set in a world torn apart, where man enslaves his fellow man and freedom remains elusive, THE POWER OF ONE is the moving story of one young man's search for the love that binds friends, the passion that binds lovers, and the realization that it takes only one to change the world. A weak and friendless boy growing up in South Africa during World War II, Peekay turns to two older men, one black and one white, to show him how to find the courage to dream, to succeed, to triumph over a world when all seems lost, and to inspire him to summon up the most irrersistible force of all: the Power of One.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781742679525
Publisher: Bolinda Audio
Publication date: 12/10/2011
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 18
Sales rank: 629,949
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Bryce Courtenay is the bestselling author of The Power of One, Tandia, April Fool's Day, The Potato Factory, Tommo & Hawk, Solomon's Song, Jessica, A Recipe for Dreaming, The Family Frying Pan, The Night Country, Smoky Joe's Cafe, Four Fires, Matthew Flinders' Cat, Brother Fish, Whitethorn, Sylvia, The Persimmon Tree, Fishing for Stars, The Story of Danny Dunn and Fortune Cookie. The Power of One is also available in an edition for younger readers, and Jessica has been made into an award-winning television miniseries. Bryce Courtenay lives in Canberra. Visit Bryce on Facebook: facebook.com/BryceCourtenay

Read an Excerpt

The Power of One


By Bryce Courtenay

Laurel Leaf

Copyright © 2007 Bryce Courtenay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780440239130

one


1939: Northern Transvaal, South Africa


This is what happened.
My Zulu nanny was a person made for laughter, warmth and softness and before my life started properly she would clasp me to her breasts and stroke my golden curls with a hand so large it seemed to contain my whole head. My hurts were soothed with a song about a brave young warrior hunting a lion and a women's song about doing the washing down on the rock beside the river where, at sunset, the baboons would come out of the hills to drink.
My life proper started at the age of five when my mother had her nervous breakdown. I was torn from my black nanny with her big white smile and taken from my grandfather's farm and sent to boarding school.
Then began a time of yellow wedges of pumpkin burned black and bitter at the edges; mashed potato with glassy lumps; meat aproned with gristle in gray gravy; diced carrots; warm, wet, flatulent cabbage; beds that wet themselves in the morning; and an entirely new sensation called loneliness.
I was the youngest child in the school by two years and spoke only English while the other children spoke Afrikaans, the language of the Boers, which was the name for the Dutch settlers in South Africa. They called the English settlers Rooinecks, which means "Redneck," because in the Boer War, which had happened forty years before between the English and the Dutch settlers, the pale-skinnedEnglish troopers got very sunburned and their necks turned bright red.
The English won this war, but it was a terrible struggle and it created a hatred for them by the Boers, which was carried over into the generations that followed. So, here I was, someone who only spoke the language of the people they hated most of all in the world. I was the first Rooineck the Afrikaner kids had ever seen and, I'm telling you, I was in a lot of trouble.
On the first night of boarding school, I was taken by two eleven-year-olds to the seniors' dormitory, to stand trial. I stood there shaking like billy-o and gibbering, unable to understand the language of the twelve-year-old judge, or the reason for the hilarity when the sentence was pronounced. But I guessed the worst. I had been caught deep behind enemy lines and even a five-year-old knows this means the death sentence.
I wasn't quite sure what death was. I knew it was something that happened on the farm in the slaughterhouse to pigs and goats and an occasional heifer and I'd seen it happen often enough to chickens. The squeal from the pigs was so awful that I knew it wasn't much of an experience, even for pigs.
And I knew something else for sure; death wasn't as good as life. Now death was about to happen to me before I could really get the hang of life. Trying hard to hold back my tears, I was dragged off to the shower room. I had never been in a shower room before; it resembled the slaughterhouse on my grandfather's farm and I guessed this was where my death would take place. I was told to remove my pajamas and to kneel inside the recess facing the wall. I looked down into the hole in the floor where all the blood would drain away. I closed my eyes and said a silent, sobbing prayer. My prayer wasn't to God but to my nanny. I felt a sudden splash on my neck and then warm blood trickled over my trembling body. Funny, I didn't feel dead. But who knows what dead feels like?
When the Judge and his council of war had all pissed on me, they left. After a while it got very quiet, just a drip, drip from someplace overhead. I didn't know how to turn the shower on and so had no way of washing myself. At the farm I had always been bathed by my nanny in a tin tub in front of the kitchen stove. She'd soap me all over and Dee and Dum, the two kitchen maids who were twins, would giggle behind their hands when she soaped my little acorn. This was how I knew it was a special part of me. Just how special I was soon to find out. I tried to dry myself with my pajamas. My hands were shaking a lot. I wandered around that big dark place until I found the small kids' dormitory. There I crept under my blanket and came to the end of my first day in life.
I awoke next morning to find the other kids surrounding my bed and holding their noses. I'm telling you, I have to admit it myself, I smelt worse than a kaffir toilet, worse than the pigs at home. The kids scattered as a very large person with a smudge of dark hair above her lip entered. It was the same lady who had left me in the dormitory the night before. "Good morning, Mevrou!" they chorused in Afrikaans, each standing stiffly to attention at the foot of his bed.
The huge woman tore back my blanket and sniffed. "Why, you wet your bed, boy! Sis, man, you stink!" she bellowed. Then, without waiting for my answer, which, of course, I didn't have, she grabbed me by the ear and led me back to the place where they'd pissed on me the night before. Making me take off my pajamas, she pushed me into a recess. I thought desperately, She's even bigger than Nanny. If she pisses on me I will surely drown. There was a sudden hissing sound and needles of icy water drilled into me. I had my eyes tightly shut but the hail of water was remorseless.
If you don't know what a shower is, and have never had one before, then it's not so hard to believe that maybe this is death. A thousand sharp pricks drilled into my skin. How can so much piss possibly come out of one person, I thought. Funny, it should be warm, but this was icy cold, but then I was no expert on these things.
Then the fierce hissing and the icy deluge stopped suddenly. I opened my eyes to find no Mevrou. The Judge stood before me, his pajama sleeve rolled up, his arm wet where he'd reached to turn off the shower. Behind him stood the jury and all the small kids from my dormitory.
The jury formed a ring around me. My teeth were chattering out of control. The Judge pointed to my tiny acorn. "Why you piss your bed, Rooinek?" he asked.
"Hey, look, there is no hat on his snake!" someone yelled. They all crowded closer.
"Pisskop! Pisskop!"--in a moment all the small kids were chanting.
"You hear, you a pisshead," the Judge translated. "Who cut the hat off your snake, Pisskop?"
I looked down. All seemed perfectly normal to me. I looked up at the Judge, confused. The Judge parted his pajama fly. His large "snake" seemed to be a continuous sheath brought down to a point of ragged skin. I must say, it wasn't much of a sight.
More trouble lay ahead of me for sure. I was a Rooinek and a pisskop. I spoke the wrong language. And now I was obviously made differently. But I was still alive, and in my book, where there's life, there's hope.


By the end of the first term I had reduced my persecution to no more than an hour a day. I had the art of survival almost down pat. Except for one thing: I had become a bed wetter. It is impossible to become a perfect adapter if you leave a wet patch behind you every morning.
My day would begin with a bed-wetting caning from Mevrou, a routine that did serve a useful purpose. I learned that crying is a luxury good adapters have to forgo, and I soon had the school record for being thrashed. The Judge said so. I wasn't just a hated Rooinek and a pisskop, I was also a record holder.
The Judge ordered that I only be beaten up a little at a time, and if I could stop being a pisskop he'd stop even that, although he added that, for a Rooinek, this was probably impossible. I was inclined to agree. No amount of resolve on my part seemed to have the least effect.
The end of the first term finally came. I was to return home for the May holidays: home to Nanny, who would listen to my sadness and sleep on her mat at the foot of my bed so the bogeyman couldn't get me. I also intended to inquire whether my mother had stopped breaking down so I would be allowed to stay home.
I rode home joyfully in Dr. "Henny" Boshoff's shiny Chevrolet coupe. As we choofed along, I was no longer a Rooinek and a pisskop but became a great chief. Life was very good. It was Dr. Henny who had first told me about the nervous breakdown, and he now confirmed that my mother was "coming along nicely" but she wouldn't be home just yet. Sadly this put the kibosh on my chances of staying home.
When I arrived at the farm Nanny wept and held me close. It was late summer. The days were filled with song as the field women picked cotton, working their way down the long rows, singing in perfect harmony while they plucked the fluffy white fiber heads from the sun-blackened cotton bolls.
When Nanny couldn't solve a problem for me she'd say, "We must ask Inkosi-Inkosikazi, the great medicine man, he will know what to do." Now Nanny sent a message to Inkosi-Inkosikazi to the effect that we urgently needed to see him on the matter of the child's night water. The message was put on the drums and in two days we heard that Inkosi-Inkosikazi would call in a fortnight or so on his way to visit Modjadji, the great rain queen. The whites of Nanny's eyes would grow big and her cheeks puff out as she talked about the greatness of the medicine man. "He will dry your bed with one throw of the shinbones of the great white ox," she promised.
"Will he also grow skin over my acorn?" I demanded. She clutched me to her breast, her answer lost as she chortled all over me.
The problem of the night water was much discussed by the field women. "Surely a grass sleeping mat will dry in the morning sun? This is not a matter of proper concern for the greatest medicine man in Africa." It was all right for them, of course. They didn't have to go back to the Judge and Mevrou.
Almost two weeks to the day, Inkosi-Inkosikazi arrived in his big black Buick, symbol of his enormous power and wealth, even to the Boers, who despised him yet feared his magic.
All that day the field women brought gifts of food: kaffir corn, squash, native spinach, watermelons, bundles of dried tobacco leaf--and six scrawny kaffir chickens, mostly tough old roosters, their legs tied and their wings clipped.
One scrawny old cock with mottled gray feathers looked very much like my granpa, except for his eyes. Granpa's eyes were pale blue, intended for gazing over soft English landscapes; that old rooster's were sharp as beads of red light.
My granpa came down the steps and walked toward the big Buick. He stopped to kick one of the roosters, for he hated kaffir chickens. His pride and joy were his one hundred black Orpington hens and six giant roosters.
He greatly admired Inkosi-Inkosikazi, who had once cured him of his gallstones. "Never a trace of a gallstone since," he declared. "If you ask me, the old monkey is the best damned doctor in the lowveld."
The old medicine man, like Nanny, was a Zulu. It was said he was the last son of the great Dingaan, the Zulu king who fought both the Boers and the British to a standstill. Two generations after the Boers had finally defeated his Impi at the Battle of Blood River, they remained in awe of Dingaan.
Two years after the battle, Dingaan, reeling from the combined forces of his half brother Mpande and the Boers, had sought refuge among the Nyawo people on the summit of the great Lebombo mountains. On the night he was treacherously assassinated by Nyawo tribesmen he had been presented with a young virgin, and his seed was planted in her womb.
"Where I chose blood, this last of my sons will choose wisdom. You will call him Inkosi-Inkosikazi, he will be a man for all Africa," Dingaan had told the Nyawo maiden.
This made the small, wizened black man who was being helped from the Buick one hundred years old.
Inkosi-Inkosikazi was dressed in a mismatched suit, the jacket brown, the trousers blue pinstripe. A mangy leopard-skin cloak fell from his shoulders. In his right hand he carried a beautifully beaded fly switch, the symbol of an important chief. His hair was whiter than raw cotton, tufts of snowy beard sprang from his chin and only three yellowed teeth remained in his mouth. His eyes burned sharp and clear, like the eyes of the old rooster.
My granpa briefly welcomed Inkosi-Inkosikazi and granted him permission to stay overnight on the farm. The old man nodded, showing none of the customary obsequiousness expected from a kaffir, and my granpa shook the old man's bony claw and returned to his chair on the stoep.
Nanny, who had rubbed earth on her forehead like all the other women, finally spoke. "Lord, the women have brought food and we have beer freshly fermented."
Inkosi-Inkosikazi ignored her, which I thought was pretty brave of him, and ordered one of the women to untie the cockerels. With a squawking and flapping of stunted wings all but one rose and dashed helter-skelter toward open territory. The old cock who looked like Granpa rose slowly, then, calm as you like, he walked over to a heap of corn and started pecking away.
"Catch the feathered devils," Inkosi-Inkosikazi suddenly commanded.
With squeals of delight the chickens were rounded up again. The ice had been broken as five of the women, each holding a chicken upside down by the legs, waited for the old man's instructions. Inkosi-Inkosikazi squatted down and with his finger traced five circles, each about two feet in diameter, in the dust, muttering incantations. Then he signaled for one of the women to bring over a cockerel. Grabbing the old bird and using its beak as a marker, he retraced the first circle on the ground, then laid the cockerel inside the circle, where it lay unmoving. He proceeded to do the same thing to the other four chickens until each lay in its own circle. As each chicken was laid to rest there would be a gasp of amazement from the women.


From the Hardcover edition.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay Copyright © 2007 by Bryce Courtenay. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Reading Group Guide

Freelance writer Paul Witcover discusses some of the key historical events that make up the backdrop of the novel The Power of One. What follows are his essays “The Boer War,” “World War II in South Africa” and “Origins and Early History of Apartheid.”

The Boer War

Early in The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay writes, “The Boer War had created great malevolent feelings against the English, who were called rooineks. It was a hate that had entered the Afrikaner bloodstream and pocked the hearts and minds of the next generation” (pg. 3). As a rooinek attending an Afrikaner school, five-year-old Peekay experiences this hate firsthand when he is terrorized and abused by the sadistic Judge and his “council of war” (pg. 4). As Peekay grows older and is better able to defend himself with his fists and his wits, he is less often the victim of such casual brutalities, but he never completely escapes from the pernicious effects of Afrikaner hatred. The terms “Boer” and “Afrikaner” are synonymous.

That hatred had been nourished for almost a century by the 1930s, when The Power of One opens. A century of bloodshed, oppression, resentment . . . and war. The conflict known to history as the Boer War (1899—1902), which ended in the victory of the English, was actually the second war fought between the Boers and the British. The first took place from 1880 to 1881 and ended in victory for the Boers, though it was destined to be a short-lived triumph.

The Boers were fiercely independent farmers of mainly Dutch and German stock who went to what is now South Africa beginning in the late 1600s, seeking to make their fortunes and to practice their conservative brand of Protestant Christianity. One strong component of their religious convictions was a belief in a biblically ordained separation of races and the superiority of the “white race.”

The Cape area of Africa was originally colonized and controlled by the Dutch East India Company. Chafing under the autocratic rule of the company, a number of Boers trekked into the interior of the country and established independent republics.

The English seized the Cape area in 1795, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, to deprive the French of its resources, and in 1815 took permanent control. The Boer republics were absorbed into British lands.

The Boers were no fonder of their new rulers than they had been of the old. As English settlers began to pour into the country, rubbing up against the Boers, friction resulted. This friction was exacerbated in 1833 when the British abolished slavery, a move offensive to the religious beliefs of the Boers. As before, the Boers responded by trekking deeper into the interior and establishing new republics. In 1869, the discovery of diamonds in one of these republics, the Transvaal, attracted the greedy attention of the British, who once again assumed control.
Boer resentment at this high-handed treatment exploded in 1880 into full-blown war. The Boers won a decisive victory in 1881, and the South African Republic was established. But the discovery of gold brought renewed pressure from the English and ultimately resulted in the second Anglo-Boer war.

This was a long, hard-fought campaign, pitting the guerilla tactics of the Boers against the scorched-earth policy of the English, whose greater numbers finally prevailed. Both sides committed atrocities against soldiers and civilians alike over the course of the increasingly bitter conflict, but it was the use of concentration camps by the English that is the most infamous. Originally built to contain families whose homes had been destroyed by British scorched-earth tactics, the camps were squalid tent cities that became dumping grounds for anyone suspected of Boer sympathies. Forty-five camps were built for whites and sixty-four for blacks. Because most Boer men taken prisoner were held overseas, the white camps held mostly women and children; the black camps had large numbers of men.

Poor hygiene throughout the camps, combined with meager rations, led to continual outbreaks of contagious diseases that could not be adequately treated due to a lack of medical facilities. It is estimated that almost 28,000 Boers, most of them children under the age of sixteen, and nearly 15,000 blacks died from starvation and disease in the camps. That England was scandalized to learn of the conditions in the camps, and, in the final years of the war, set out to improve them, was of little consolation to the Boers. They had ample reason to hate the British and little reason to forgive or forget, even after the Union of South Africa was established in 1910 with a primary aim of forging the Boers and the British into a single people. The degree to which this goal remained unmet by the time of World War II is vividly portrayed by Courtenay, as is the reflexive racism of the two “white races” against the blacks and coloreds: a racism that, perhaps more than anything else, would ultimately unite them.

World War II in South Africa

World War II casts a long, dark shadow over The Power of One and over the life of its young protagonist, Peekay. It has an almost mythological presence, one of a malign fairy tale, as when the Judge torments Peekay with talk of Hitler coming to march all the English into the sea–a monstrous updating of the Pied Piper of Hamelin legend. Later, aboard the train to Barbeton, Peekay meets the welterweight boxer Hoppie Groenewald, who he learns has just been called up to fight against Hitler and the Axis powers; it is only then, for the first time, that Peekay realizes South Africa is in fact allied with the British Commonwealth against the Nazis, rather than the reverse. Later still, Peekay’s new friend Doc is arrested on trumped-up charges of being a dangerous German spy and even after his acquittal is interned for the duration of the war inside a prison camp. Although the war ends a little more than halfway through the story, its impact continues to reverberate until the end of the novel, when the swastika-tattooed Judge returns, an emblem of the past . . . and the future.

Yet despite this, Courtenay avoids giving detailed information about the South African experience of World War II. This is only proper; after all, he is writing a novel, not a history book. Nonetheless, a brief overview of the history may provide helpful background for readers.

While critical battles in the war took place in North Africa and, to a lesser extent, East Africa, no actual fighting took place on South African soil apart from acts of sabotage. Even so, more than 330,000 men served in the South African Army, serving with distinction in Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. Though Apartheid was not yet the official policy of South Africa, it was considered unthinkable by the ruling whites to arm “blacks” and “coloreds,” who were restricted to non-combat roles.

Although South Africa had become a dominion in the British Commonwealth in 1931, and was therefore bound to Great Britain and the other dominions of the former British Empire by strict obligations of mutual defense, it was not a foregone conclusion that South Africa would enter the war on the side of England, or even enter it at all.
In 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, the South African Prime Minister was Barry Hertzog, an Afrikaner who led the anti-British National Party. When England declared war on Germany, Hertzog and his allies were more sympathetic toward Germany than toward England, their hated enemy since the Boer Wars. Hertzog attempted to have South Africa declare itself neutral, but this controversial step fractured his ruling coalition, which voted him out of office and replaced him with the former general and prime minister Jan Smuts. The new prime minister immediately fulfilled his country’s obligations by declaring war on Germany and the Axis powers.
Recognizing South Africa’s strategic importance as a supply point for Allied forces in Africa and the Middle East, Smuts beefed up South Africa’s defenses and instituted Air Force and Navy patrols of its territorial waters and beyond.

Smuts had to worry about internal enemies as well. Support for the allies was such a close-run thing in parliament and in the general (white) population that he never dared to introduce conscription, although the army suffered from manpower shortages throughout the war. Further, the fall of Hertzog and the declaration of war against Germany inflamed the most hard-core nationalist elements of the Afrikaners. The paramilitary wing of the nationalist Ossewabrandwag organization–the Stormjaers, or “Storm Hunters,” modeled after the Nazi SA–launched a campaign of sabotage against the government. Smuts cracked down harshly, arresting and interning members of the Ossewabrandwag for the duration of the war. It is important to note that these men and women, while extremists, were representative of a powerful and by no means unpopular strain among the South African citizenry, to whom their anti-Semitic and racist views, as well as their embrace of order by totalitarian means, proved highly attractive. Among those interned, for example, was John Vorster, a future prime minister of South Africa. Members of the Ossewabrandwag would go on to play leading roles in the Apartheid government of the post-war years.

One unforeseen result of the war was the relative empowerment of blacks, coloreds, and women, all of whom were required to step up and fill in the gaps left open in manufacturing and other areas of the economy left open by white males who were either in the army or interned in camps. This led to attempts at unionization and political organization by the newly urbanized underclass, which was in turn met by harsh, often brutal, repression on the part of the government. After the war, these pressures would add to the backlash that swept the Apartheid government into power.

Origins and Early History of Apartheid

Throughout The Power of One, readers are witness to a degree of racism against non-whites that is shocking in its casual brutality. It is obvious that for the majority of Boers and British alike, blacks and coloreds, as the non-white populations of South Africa were classified, are viewed as little more than animals, to be discriminated against, beaten, or even killed with impunity. The horrific fate of Geel Piet is anomalous only in that his murderer is punished, albeit outside the law. Later, when Peekay and Morrie are confronted by Captain Swanepoel and forced to stop teaching black students, we see in action the official state policy of apartheid, meaning “separateness,” which became South African law under the National Party in 1948.

Ideas of white superiority and race separation were key components of Afrikaner religious beliefs. The British, though responsible for abolishing slavery in 1833, did not consider African blacks to be their equals; in fact, the British government had instituted so-called “pass laws,” to restrict the free movement of blacks, as far back as the 1800s. Almost from the founding of the Union of South Africa in 1910, policies of ethnic classification and segregation were put into place.

In 1911, the Native Labour Regulation Act and the Mines and Works Act put significant restrictions on the kind of work available to non-whites and on their rights as laborers. In 1913, the Natives’ Land Act regulated the ownership and acquisition of land by blacks throughout the four provinces of the Union of South Africa, reserving over 90 percent of the land to whites. These laws and others would constitute a framework on which the architects of apartheid would build.

In 1912, before the Natives’ Land Act became law, its likely passage provided impetus for the founding of the South African Native National Congress, which in 1923 became the African National Congress, or the ANC. The ANC was at first relatively conservative, but in 1949, a new leadership, made up of young men such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, took the congress in a more radical direction.

By that time, the National Party had come into office, shrewdly playing to white fears of diminished power, following the relative improvement in the economic and social conditions of blacks and coloreds in World War II. A harsh backlash ensued. The black homelands were established and numerous laws enacted that not only wiped out the slight gains made by blacks and coloreds but left them with even fewer rights than they had possessed prior to the war. The homelands system that disenfranchised blacks became known as grand apartheid, while the framework of laws governing racial segregation within white South Africa was known as petty apartheid.

This was the political situation as it existed in 1953, when The Power of One concludes. Few white or black South Africans at that time could have imagined a future in which the edifice of apartheid would be dismantled and ANC leader Nelson Mandela would assume the presidency of a newly democratic South Africa. It would take more than forty years of violent struggle and repression, of massacres and riots, and increasing international pressure, but ultimately even many of apartheid’s supporters would come to realize that this pernicious system had corrupted and nearly destroyed an entire nation.

1. How does it affect your reading of the novel to know that much of it is at least semi-autobiographical, based on the author’s experiences growing up in South Africa? Do you think it’s important to know exactly what, in a book like this, is real and what is fictional? Why?

2. What is “the power of one”? How does it affect Peekay’s life and the lives of those around him? Is there a mystical or religious component to it, something beyond human causation, or is it something that anyone can learn to develop?

3. Is there any significance to the idea of “the power of one” in this novel beyond the individual? Is Courtenay suggesting that South Africa itself must, like Peekay, develop this power in order to survive?

4. Both boxing and music are important to Peekay and to The Power of One. At times, Bryce Courtenay contrasts them, while at other times he stresses their commonalities, and even describes one in terms of the other–as, for example, when Peekay boxes “like a Mozart concerto” (pg. 249). Identify more of these contrasts and commonalities. Why do you think the author emphasizes them so much?

5. Do you rely upon something like the power of one in your own life? What is it, and how did you develop it? How is it similar to or different from Peekay’s power of one?

6. Why does Granpa Chook become such an important figure to Peekay?

7. Which group has the greater influence on Peekay: people like Nanny, Inkosi-Inkosikazi, Hoppie Groenewald, Doc, and Geel Piet, or those like his mother, Mevrou, the Judge, and Sergeant Borman?

8. After Peekay learns his nanny has been sent back to Zululand, he climbs up the hill overlooking his house and, as he puts it, “I grew up. Just like that” (pg. 142). Why does this news about Nanny make Peekay grow up?

9. Among other things, The Power of One is a fierce condemnation of racism. Yet despite this, were there parts of the novel that struck you as racist? And if so, why? Does the book rise above these instances, or does it sabotage its own message?

10. Compare the racism of South Africa pre-apartheid and during apartheid as presented in The Power of One, with racism in the United States prior to and during the Civil Rights era. Has South Africa or the United States made more progress in eliminating racism?

11. Why does Peekay, the “Tadpole Angel,” become a symbol of hope for the black Africans? Does Peekay come to accept the hopes and dreams and expectations that the Africans place on him? What actions does he take to fulfill this role?

12. Is it an accident of composition that The Power of One is divided into three parts, or “books,” or did the author purposefully structure the novel this way? If the latter, what was his purpose? Is there a particular significance to the number three in the novel?

13. Why does the Judge have it in for Peekay? Have you encountered people like the Judge in your life? What’s the best way to deal with them? Does Peekay make the right choice? What else could he have done?

14. Why does Hoppie Groenewald’s mantra, “First with the head, then with the heart” (pg. 103) inspire young Peekay with such courage and hope?

15. At one point in the novel, Peekay refers to himself as a “spiritual terrorist” (pg. 360). What do you think he means by this term? Is it more difficult in the post-9/11 world to see this term as positive?

16. At the end of the novel, Peekay uses all his boxing skills to defeat a grown-up Judge. Is this last fight truly a victory? Why or why not?

17. Is religion, not just Christianity but also the indigenous African religion, portrayed favorably or unfavorably in The Power of One? Is there any one character whose opinions about religion you think most resemble those of the author? Why? Do you agree with these opinions?

18. Why do you think the author never tells us the names of Peekay’s mother or grandfather? For that matter, why don’t we ever learn Peekay’s real name?

19. In Book Two, the character of Morrie Levy is introduced, a Jewish boy who quickly becomes Peekay’s best friend and business partner. Does Courtenay make this character Jewish for thematic reasons? Does Morrie seem like a stereotypical Jewish character, or does he transcend stereotypes?

20. What do you think lies ahead for Peekay? Does he become the welterweight champion of the world? Do you think, following his last fight with the Judge, that this goal is still an important one for him?

Introduction

Freelance writer Paul Witcover discusses some of the key historical events that make up the backdrop of the novel The Power of One. What follows are his essays “The Boer War,” “World War II in South Africa” and “Origins and Early History of Apartheid.”

The Boer War

Early in The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay writes, “The Boer War had created great malevolent feelings against the English, who were called rooineks. It was a hate that had entered the Afrikaner bloodstream and pocked the hearts and minds of the next generation” (pg. 3). As a rooinek attending an Afrikaner school, five-year-old Peekay experiences this hate firsthand when he is terrorized and abused by the sadistic Judge and his “council of war” (pg. 4). As Peekay grows older and is better able to defend himself with his fists and his wits, he is less often the victim of such casual brutalities, but he never completely escapes from the pernicious effects of Afrikaner hatred. The terms “Boer” and “Afrikaner” are synonymous.

That hatred had been nourished for almost a century by the 1930s, when The Power of One opens. A century of bloodshed, oppression, resentment . . . and war. The conflict known to history as the Boer War (1899—1902), which ended in the victory of the English, was actually the second war fought between the Boers and the British. The first took place from 1880 to 1881 and ended in victory for the Boers, though it was destined to be a short-lived triumph.

The Boers were fiercely independent farmers ofmainly Dutch and German stock who went to what is now South Africa beginning in the late 1600s, seeking to make their fortunes and to practice their conservative brand of Protestant Christianity. One strong component of their religious convictions was a belief in a biblically ordained separation of races and the superiority of the “white race.”

The Cape area of Africa was originally colonized and controlled by the Dutch East India Company. Chafing under the autocratic rule of the company, a number of Boers trekked into the interior of the country and established independent republics.

The English seized the Cape area in 1795, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, to deprive the French of its resources, and in 1815 took permanent control. The Boer republics were absorbed into British lands.

The Boers were no fonder of their new rulers than they had been of the old. As English settlers began to pour into the country, rubbing up against the Boers, friction resulted. This friction was exacerbated in 1833 when the British abolished slavery, a move offensive to the religious beliefs of the Boers. As before, the Boers responded by trekking deeper into the interior and establishing new republics. In 1869, the discovery of diamonds in one of these republics, the Transvaal, attracted the greedy attention of the British, who once again assumed control.
Boer resentment at this high-handed treatment exploded in 1880 into full-blown war. The Boers won a decisive victory in 1881, and the South African Republic was established. But the discovery of gold brought renewed pressure from the English and ultimately resulted in the second Anglo-Boer war.

This was a long, hard-fought campaign, pitting the guerilla tactics of the Boers against the scorched-earth policy of the English, whose greater numbers finally prevailed. Both sides committed atrocities against soldiers and civilians alike over the course of the increasingly bitter conflict, but it was the use of concentration camps by the English that is the most infamous. Originally built to contain families whose homes had been destroyed by British scorched-earth tactics, the camps were squalid tent cities that became dumping grounds for anyone suspected of Boer sympathies. Forty-five camps were built for whites and sixty-four for blacks. Because most Boer men taken prisoner were held overseas, the white camps held mostly women and children; the black camps had large numbers of men.

Poor hygiene throughout the camps, combined with meager rations, led to continual outbreaks of contagious diseases that could not be adequately treated due to a lack of medical facilities. It is estimated that almost 28,000 Boers, most of them children under the age of sixteen, and nearly 15,000 blacks died from starvation and disease in the camps. That England was scandalized to learn of the conditions in the camps, and, in the final years of the war, set out to improve them, was of little consolation to the Boers. They had ample reason to hate the British and little reason to forgive or forget, even after the Union of South Africa was established in 1910 with a primary aim of forging the Boers and the British into a single people. The degree to which this goal remained unmet by the time of World War II is vividly portrayed by Courtenay, as is the reflexive racism of the two “white races” against the blacks and coloreds: a racism that, perhaps more than anything else, would ultimately unite them.

World War II in South Africa

World War II casts a long, dark shadow over The Power of One and over the life of its young protagonist, Peekay. It has an almost mythological presence, one of a malign fairy tale, as when the Judge torments Peekay with talk of Hitler coming to march all the English into the sea–a monstrous updating of the Pied Piper of Hamelin legend. Later, aboard the train to Barbeton, Peekay meets the welterweight boxer Hoppie Groenewald, who he learns has just been called up to fight against Hitler and the Axis powers; it is only then, for the first time, that Peekay realizes South Africa is in fact allied with the British Commonwealth against the Nazis, rather than the reverse. Later still, Peekay’s new friend Doc is arrested on trumped-up charges of being a dangerous German spy and even after his acquittal is interned for the duration of the war inside a prison camp. Although the war ends a little more than halfway through the story, its impact continues to reverberate until the end of the novel, when the swastika-tattooed Judge returns, an emblem of the past . . . and the future.

Yet despite this, Courtenay avoids giving detailed information about the South African experience of World War II. This is only proper; after all, he is writing a novel, not a history book. Nonetheless, a brief overview of the history may provide helpful background for readers.

While critical battles in the war took place in North Africa and, to a lesser extent, East Africa, no actual fighting took place on South African soil apart from acts of sabotage. Even so, more than 330,000 men served in the South African Army, serving with distinction in Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. Though Apartheid was not yet the official policy of South Africa, it was considered unthinkable by the ruling whites to arm “blacks” and “coloreds,” who were restricted to non-combat roles.

Although South Africa had become a dominion in the British Commonwealth in 1931, and was therefore bound to Great Britain and the other dominions of the former British Empire by strict obligations of mutual defense, it was not a foregone conclusion that South Africa would enter the war on the side of England, or even enter it at all.
In 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, the South African Prime Minister was Barry Hertzog, an Afrikaner who led the anti-British National Party. When England declared war on Germany, Hertzog and his allies were more sympathetic toward Germany than toward England, their hated enemy since the Boer Wars. Hertzog attempted to have South Africa declare itself neutral, but this controversial step fractured his ruling coalition, which voted him out of office and replaced him with the former general and prime minister Jan Smuts. The new prime minister immediately fulfilled his country’s obligations by declaring war on Germany and the Axis powers.
Recognizing South Africa’s strategic importance as a supply point for Allied forces in Africa and the Middle East, Smuts beefed up South Africa’s defenses and instituted Air Force and Navy patrols of its territorial waters and beyond.

Smuts had to worry about internal enemies as well. Support for the allies was such a close-run thing in parliament and in the general (white) population that he never dared to introduce conscription, although the army suffered from manpower shortages throughout the war. Further, the fall of Hertzog and the declaration of war against Germany inflamed the most hard-core nationalist elements of the Afrikaners. The paramilitary wing of the nationalist Ossewabrandwag organization–the Stormjaers, or “Storm Hunters,” modeled after the Nazi SA–launched a campaign of sabotage against the government. Smuts cracked down harshly, arresting and interning members of the Ossewabrandwag for the duration of the war. It is important to note that these men and women, while extremists, were representative of a powerful and by no means unpopular strain among the South African citizenry, to whom their anti-Semitic and racist views, as well as their embrace of order by totalitarian means, proved highly attractive. Among those interned, for example, was John Vorster, a future prime minister of South Africa. Members of the Ossewabrandwag would go on to play leading roles in the Apartheid government of the post-war years.

One unforeseen result of the war was the relative empowerment of blacks, coloreds, and women, all of whom were required to step up and fill in the gaps left open in manufacturing and other areas of the economy left open by white males who were either in the army or interned in camps. This led to attempts at unionization and political organization by the newly urbanized underclass, which was in turn met by harsh, often brutal, repression on the part of the government. After the war, these pressures would add to the backlash that swept the Apartheid government into power.

Origins and Early History of Apartheid

Throughout The Power of One, readers are witness to a degree of racism against non-whites that is shocking in its casual brutality. It is obvious that for the majority of Boers and British alike, blacks and coloreds, as the non-white populations of South Africa were classified, are viewed as little more than animals, to be discriminated against, beaten, or even killed with impunity. The horrific fate of Geel Piet is anomalous only in that his murderer is punished, albeit outside the law. Later, when Peekay and Morrie are confronted by Captain Swanepoel and forced to stop teaching black students, we see in action the official state policy of apartheid, meaning “separateness,” which became South African law under the National Party in 1948.

Ideas of white superiority and race separation were key components of Afrikaner religious beliefs. The British, though responsible for abolishing slavery in 1833, did not consider African blacks to be their equals; in fact, the British government had instituted so-called “pass laws,” to restrict the free movement of blacks, as far back as the 1800s. Almost from the founding of the Union of South Africa in 1910, policies of ethnic classification and segregation were put into place.

In 1911, the Native Labour Regulation Act and the Mines and Works Act put significant restrictions on the kind of work available to non-whites and on their rights as laborers. In 1913, the Natives’ Land Act regulated the ownership and acquisition of land by blacks throughout the four provinces of the Union of South Africa, reserving over 90 percent of the land to whites. These laws and others would constitute a framework on which the architects of apartheid would build.

In 1912, before the Natives’ Land Act became law, its likely passage provided impetus for the founding of the South African Native National Congress, which in 1923 became the African National Congress, or the ANC. The ANC was at first relatively conservative, but in 1949, a new leadership, made up of young men such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, took the congress in a more radical direction.

By that time, the National Party had come into office, shrewdly playing to white fears of diminished power, following the relative improvement in the economic and social conditions of blacks and coloreds in World War II. A harsh backlash ensued. The black homelands were established and numerous laws enacted that not only wiped out the slight gains made by blacks and coloreds but left them with even fewer rights than they had possessed prior to the war. The homelands system that disenfranchised blacks became known as grand apartheid, while the framework of laws governing racial segregation within white South Africa was known as petty apartheid.

This was the political situation as it existed in 1953, when The Power of One concludes. Few white or black South Africans at that time could have imagined a future in which the edifice of apartheid would be dismantled and ANC leader Nelson Mandela would assume the presidency of a newly democratic South Africa. It would take more than forty years of violent struggle and repression, of massacres and riots, and increasing international pressure, but ultimately even many of apartheid’s supporters would come to realize that this pernicious system had corrupted and nearly destroyed an entire nation.

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The Power of One 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 183 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very disappointed that the nook book was not the complete book...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had the same experience trying to purchase for my Nook. the young edition was not what I expected.
Mytimeout93 More than 1 year ago
This is a great book, please read it! But if you have a Nook and are looking forward to the full story....you will be disapointed. I purchased this book for my Nook and it turned out to be the shortened (school book) version. I am very disapointed that this was not better labeled and that the full version is not offered on the nook.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had a project in my World History class, we were required to read a historical fiction novel. I never really read much historical fiction books. I just so happen to find this book at Barnes & Nobles and read all the great reviews about it. At first glance this looked like the size of my algebra text book. But after the first chapter I was hooked. I had to know more, I had to keep going. I couldn't put the book down! This novel following Peekay to when he is 5, until he is free from the Judge, and all the people he met, the lives he changed, and the lives he would touch. I really don't know what to say about this book, other than it capturing my imagination and almost making me tear up at parts. I'm 15, rather short, and asian. At times I could almost relate to what Peekay felt. This novel is just so powerful, in feelings and emotional. It almost reaches out and pulls you into it. Though whe i reached the last few pages, I got really upset because it was about to end. I didn't want it to end... 'First with the head then with the heart' -Hoppie
NitintheIndian More than 1 year ago
The power of One by Bryce Courtenay is a very deep and thoughtful book with tranquility and culture. It is a very emotional book and been developed into a movie. It shows that even in the depths of hatred, a little boy can become something big. I really liked that the author put lots of history into this book. The locations and racism were all things that really happened. It spans from the end of World War II to a few decades after. This book shows a place that is out of reach of Hitler’s Nazi party, but is still affected by it, and dealing with the aftermath. It has a lot of culture, such as when the author uses practices from different African tribes and where the main character can speak different languages. The main character brings together the different tribes of Africa and unites them. He becomes known as a reborn war chief, set to free the Africans, because he speaks for the people. He suffers many losses, but he rises out of those losses and helps the people. The main character is a boxer, and he fights for the people of Africa. He has never lost a fight, because he is the symbol of freedom, and freedom never loses. It starts with a simple idea that a friend placed in his head, like a revolution, and it grew until he was he was fighting to become a winner, to win the championship, and win the revolution. Something I do not like in this movie is how the child talks in the beginning. It is almost as if he cannot do anything about his situation, like he’s given up. He also puts too much faith in things that are not to be trusted. As a kid, he put all his faith in his pet chicken, which later died. Overall, this was an amazing book, and I think it shows the true spirit of Africa.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Power of One is one of the greatest books I have ever read. I first read it over a summer vacation and I fell in love with it. Although the story can be graphic at times the story is one that all people should know. It is full of highs and lows that make your heart wrench and soar; Bryce Courtenay is a literary master in this regard. I would have to say that this is a must read for all people over the age of 13 because it is truly shows that nothing can hold you back if you try your best and have the right people to surround you.
WillToeffort More than 1 year ago
A boy born in 1939 South Africa comes of age. I nominate it for best novel of all the ones that I have read. I am actually still reading it, but saw the film version, which is think is the best film that I ever saw. Don't miss it either one. If you are looking for a book gift for a boy or young man, he'll love this. It has Zulu wisdom and wisdom of Peekay's grandfather. Peekay suffers from discrimination - he's British in an Afrikaner boarding school. The stress of it causes bedwetting. On a visit home, his Zula Nanny sends a message to great Zulu medicine man, Inkosi-Inkosikazi about Peekay's night water problem. Two weeks later the Inkosi arrives in his big black Buick. The story of how he cures Peekay's night water and the rest of Peekay's maturing are so wonderful and realistic that I'm sure that you'll love this novel as much as I do.
readerandteacher More than 1 year ago
This is my my favorite book, my husband's favorite book, and everyone we give it to loves it. Even my father, who only reads historical non-fiction, surprised himself by staying up late at night to read it. The little boy is an incredible character - strong, brave, and humorous. The characters are developed so well that I find myself comparing them to friends and family members. This book is great for women and men, teenagers and adults. There is some violence and discussion of apartheid and racism, so while it's an enjoyable read, it's very thought-provoking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked this up on a whim and it is one of the best books that I have read in a long time and one of the most enjoyable ever. It plays off of the history of South Africa very well and includes wonderful characters with passion and depth. Peekay's growth takes us all on a journey of revelation. This can be in everyone's library and should be an important work for all young people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book!!! First read it when I was 15 after the movie came out and it has been one of my favorites since then. It's an amazing story and the movie is good but leaves out so much (it is a very long book). If you liked the movie reading the book is a must! I wish that the authors other books were also available in the US especially Tandia which was the sequel for this one (though not as good). I purchased Tandia while living in Thailand and was about 3/4's of the way through it then I lost it in an airport. I really wish I could get a new copy so I could finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book should be required reading for all high school students or, at least, college freshman. There has obviously been much tension among the various groups of people in the Union of South Africa, and this was a good location for the story as so many racial, ethic and religious groups live in this country. The book provokes much inward thought about ourselves and how we percieve others. This is an excellent book for a group to read and discuss. Although the story line seemed more masculine, I think women would also gain insight from reading the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was beautifully written and gave a facinating scenic, political, and spiritual look into South Africa around the time of WWII. The first half of the novel was my favorite when Peekay meets his mentors, Hoppie, Doc, and Mrs Boxell all who turn his life around. These central characters question and transend much of the hate and prejudice of the time. Because of this I was very surprised by the ending which to me was a kind of twisted form of justice/revenge. Hate can not be responded to by hate in my opinion...and in the opinion of many characters in the novel, making the ending seem out of place.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was one of my favorites! I stayed up late every night reading it! I could never put it down.
tuckerfrye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm sorry, but this book was terrible. Not so much the writing, which was actually quite good, but the main character. PeeKay is perfect. In every way, shape, and form. He's innocent, hard working, charming, brilliant, and a the best boxer ever. There is not a single flaw with this child. Reading this novel was like like having a bag of sugar forced down your throat.
repb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed it - starting out - but about half way through I felt it lost direction. It was very difficult believing the young main character, PeeJay, was capable of thinking and acting as he was. Toward the end I felt it was quickly becoming more and more disjointed and finally (whew) ends leaving the reader up in the air on what happened to him. A most likely true picture of life in S. Africa at the time; that was interesting. But it was way too long. Too disjointed for my tastes.
cpolkinhorn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read the German version of this book, Der Glanz der Sonne. This is a work of epic proportions, a touching coming-of-age story which gives you a vivid picture of South Africa in the early 20th century, the political and social problems. The story portrays the cruelty but also the spirit of survival and the power of love during a turbulent time in a troubled country.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this novel a spellbinding bildungsroman. Set in South Africa during the 1930s and 1940s, it tells the story of an Anglo-African boy who, through the course of the story, acquires the nickname of Peekay. Courtenay's style reminded me of Dickens and as such he is a grand storyteller. His characterization and use of details are outstanding and bring both the country of South Africa and its people alive. The effect is to draw the reader into the story, again much like Dickens, and the result of that is to find yourself unable to set the book aside. This was an inspirational book to read.
SirpaK on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book came recommended and it was as amazing as I was told.Couldn't put it down and was actual sad when finished it.I will now look for other books by same writer.Great story well written!
Luli81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maybe the best novel I read in 2009.I discovered this great writer through it and I'm so happy to have done so!This novel is about the courage of a little boy, who can't change things but who dares to defy the world trying to do it.I loved and cried with this story.Peekay will be with me forever."First with the head and then with the heart"
dougcrews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I read it at least once a year.
nk1271 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this book in high school (many many moons ago) and it still remains my all time favorite book ever! I still read it at least once a year.
feynmansrainbow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book. It is a great coming of age story and life under the apartheid. Love to read this one agian.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the unique and remarkable life adventure of a small English boy (self named Peekay) finding his way in Apartied South Africa (and amidst the Boer/English hatred) in the 30's - 40's. The novel is structured in three books of decreasing length. I absolutely loved "book one" - the child Peekay - and how various strangers who become friends build the small, beaten down child into a strong, questioning young man. Each character, even if short-lived in the pages, is just wonderful, interesting and often sad, but the commonality is their desire to help the little misfit when their paths cross. Unfortunately, books two (when Peekay is in an elite boarding school) and three (the year between matriculation and college) are nowhere near as strong or wonderful as the first one. As enjoyable as the child Peekay was to read about, I did not find it so with the teenage/young adult Peekay. He was just TOO perfect to be believable and also, he got so pompous as to be uninteresting. But alas, that first part sure is great and all three stars go to that.
eldavi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my all time favourites.Very powerful.
lloew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was one of those books that members loved or judged by it's cover and barely attempted to read. All agreed that it is a well written coming of age story and a good choice for book clubs. Interesting discussion as most didn't know much about South Africa pre-Mandela and did additional research.