Based on the life experiences of author Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One is a powerful book set in South Africa at the height of apartheid. It tells the story of a boy named Peekay, a name that is short for "pisskop," the Afrikaans term for "pisshead." Peekay learns the meaning of violence early on in life when he is sent to a boarding school where he is the only English speaker. The boys at the school bully him terribly for his bedwetting and his circumcised penis. The boy who leads them all is called the Judge and he has a swastika tattooed on his arm. He convinces Peekay that Hitler is planning to lead all the English into the sea in order to free Afrikaners.
When Peekay goes back home for the summer, his nanny calls on chief Inkosi-Inkosikazi to help with Peekay's bedwetting and the chief introduces him to a quiet mental place with three waterfalls. Peekay returns to school with the chief's magic chicken and a strong belief in an independent spirit called the "power of one." After another terrible year which does not prevent Peekay from excelling academically, he is sent to live with his mother at Barberton. Here, he meets a German professor named Doc who helps Peekay develop his musical abilities. Around the same time, Peekay also becomes a champion boxer and earns a scholarship to the Prince of Wales school in Johannesburg.
At the school, Peekay continues boxing and sets up gambling rings. It seems like things are going well until he fails to get a scholarship to Oxford, leading him to return to his beginnings, working in a mine to build his body for boxing and encountering his nemesis, the Judge.
Given that The Power of One has many autobiographical elements, it's not surprising that it has the ring of authenticity. It's also an important piece of history, detailing apartheid in South Africa and the kinds of attitudes that existed at the time. Peekay is an ambitious young boy but you get this feeling that there are certain battles that he just can't win, a fact that lends the book a sense of pathos.
Bryce Courtenay was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and spent his early years living in a small village. He eventually went to England to study and met his future wife, Benita, there. Benita was an Australian and Courtenay ended up moving to Australia with her where they had three sons. Courtenay spent most of his life working in advertising where he was very successful. It was after this that he wrote The Power of One which quickly became a bestseller and launched his writing career. He divorced Benita in 2000 and later married Christine Gee with whom he lived in Canberra. He died in 2012 of terminal gastric cancer.
First with your head and then with your heart. So says Hoppie Groenewald, boxing champion, to a seven-year-old boy who dreams of being the welterweight champion of the world. For the young Peekay, it is a piece of advice he will carry with him throughout his life.
Born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred, this one small boy will come to lead all the tribes of Africa. Through enduring friendships with Hymie and Gideon, Peekay gains the strength he needs to win out. And in a final conflict with his childhood enemy, the Judge, Peekay will fight to the death for justice. Download and start listening now!