The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay has been around since 1989 but strangely none of our members had heard of it! All these different versions of the book are proof of its longevity:
Despite its ‘self-help’ style title, it is not that. While there is plenty of self-discovery along the way, it is young adult fiction. The novel is divided into three parts that tell the story of a young boy named Peekay on his journey through boyhood in South Africa and the ways in which racism plays an integral part within his life and the lives of those around him. Oh, and there’s boxing. And shamanism. And Nazis. And murder. And a rooster named Granpa Chook.
When this book came out my husband, then a pre-teen, felt it changed his life and has forever proclaimed this to be his favourite book. His older sister and mom read the book as well and fell in love with the story and still speak highly of it to this day. After hearing about this book for nearly 8 years, I decided book club might be a great place to try it as it came with glowing reviews. In fact, my husband proclaimed, “This will probably become someone’s favourite book of all time.”; a bold statement for sure and, unfortunately, nobody has proclaimed it to be their favourite book.
However, all members at the meeting were in agreement that it was a really good book. As previously mentioned, it is lengthy! A long book made of seemingly smaller stories and events, some were exciting, some scary, some funny, some boring and some very, very interesting. On a whole, we enjoyed learning about the racial divide in South Africa, particularly that between the English and Afrikaaners that was a result of the Boer War (1899-1902). We enjoyed the colourful characters that helped to shape Peekay’s life, in particular Hoppie and Doc.
Some criticisms of the book included whether or not the characters and events that took place were believable or overly exaggerated, or whether or not the message of the book should instead be changed from “the power of one” to “the power of the community”. Personally, I did not connect with the portions of the book where Peekay befriended Morrie (or Hymie, depending on the version of the book you had!) and found myself glossing through this portion.
I won’t spoil the end for you but the concluding scene of the book had some members moved and others questioning if they ever really knew Peekay at all. Did he act ‘first with the head and then with the heart’? That’s up to the reader to decide…