I’ve never found myself particularly attracted to the African continent (it’s hot there and I hate the heat!), nor am I at all fond of boxing so The Power of One isn’t a book I would have normally picked up. It’s actually an Audio Book and was offered for free last month from Sync, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was worth it. I was pretty much riveted from start to finish. The book is well written with a good style that flows, the characters had a lot of depth to them, even though many of them weren’t on the scene for very long and the story was just superb.
Courtenay himself prefaces the book by saying that the reader should remember that it’s all a little larger than life, but most fiction is, so we should be forgiving of that particular flaw, but being larger than life is what made this book really. At this point I have to draw the parallel to Forest Gump. Although the circumstances and stories are totally different, the method is the same. The things that happen to the protagonist, Peekay, are fantastic through their realism. Peekay, as Forest, handles them unknowingly and sometimes unwittingly with a finesse and grace that endear them to the reader/viewer (I’ve never actually read Forest Gump, just seen it).
Peekay is a little boy growing up in South Africa in the early 1940’s. He is happy at home with his black nanny and grandfather, but when his mother has a nervous breakdown, Peekay is packed off to an Afrikaner boarding school where he is derided as being an English Rooniek and is bullied by the other students. Peekay’s experiences at the school help set his character and form the rest of his life as our early experiences often do. The bullying forces him for the first time to use his intelligence to help himself since he doesn’t yet possess the stature to protect himself physically. Peekay eventually leaves the school when his family moves to the East Transvaal where he meets the two most important influences in his life. The first is a German doctor of music who teaches Peekay about botany, music and life. The second is the local boxing group where he hopes to learn the art of protecting himself, and to further himself in his goal of becoming the welterweight champion of the world. The story goes on to follow Peekay through the Second World War and finally prep school, learning and boxing all the while. The older he becomes, the more Fate seems to be moulding him into someone great, although Peekay himself feels quite distanced from it all. It is perhaps this distance that endears Peekay to the reader. While his schemes at prep school can be a bit wild and self-serving, he remains true, honest and fair through it all. Unspoiled is the word I’m looking for. He’s never spoiled by his good fortune and retains his sense of fairness for others.
As mentioned, it is all a bit larger than life but it never crosses the boarder into the impossible or even ridiculous. It all remains quite plausible. The amazing variety of characters helps with this as they each have something different to impart to Peekay along his journey. They also prevent the book from becoming tedious or boring. It is a very long book, but one that’s well worth the read/listen in my opinion. I didn’t often find myself becoming bored and my concentration rarely lagged, which is quite a feat for such a long book. I give this one a resounding 5 out of 5 and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.