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Synopsis for The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
The Power of One is a novel by Bryce Courtenay, first published in 1989. 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.
It is written from the first person perspective, with Peekay narrating (as an adult, looking back) and trusting the reader with his thoughts and feelings, as opposed to a detailed description of places and account of actions.
When his mother suffers from a nervous breakdown, five-year-old Peekay is sent to a tiny rural Afrikaans boarding school. He is severely bullied and teased for being English (anti-English sentiment was widespread amongst Afrikaners following their defeat in the Boer war). Peekay is especially bullied by “the Judge”, a cruel, avid Nazi supporter and the oldest student.
At the end of the year, traumatized from his experiences, Peekay is informed that he will not be returning to the farm, rather, he will be going to the East Transvaal town of Barberton, where his grandfather lives after the outbreak of Newcastle disease on his previous home.
On the train to Barberton, Peekay befriends Hoppie Groenewald, a guard. Groenewald shares his love of boxing with Peekay. After seeing him win a boxing match, Peekay is mesmerised with the sport and vows to become the welterweight champion of the world. However, the next day Hoppie departs to fight in a war, and Hoppie’s friend Hetty dies on the train Peekay is travelling on.
When Peekay arrives in Barberton, he realises both his academic and physical potential. He excels in his grades and fights the children of the school. He becomes a frequent winner, never having lost a match.
Peekay encounters numerous friends in Barberton, including a professor of music, Prof. Karl von Vollesteen, and a coloured prisoner, Geel Piet, who coaches him in boxing. They form alliances, and each believe that all humans have equal rights. Along with the librarian, Mrs. Boxall, they establish the ‘Sandwich Fund’, which helps to supply the families of people in the Barberton prison.
Over the course of his childhood and young adulthood, Peekay builds confidence in his boxing. He also learns that racism is the primary force of evil and builds compassion and empathy for the mistreated blacks and coloureds of apartheid South Africa. Geel Piet, who has a white parent and a black parent, is constantly the target of racism and has perfected taking more than he is entitled to from the prison system.
About Bryce Courtenay (Books by Bryce Courtenay…)
Arthur Bryce Courtenay AM (born 14 August 1933) is a South-African-born naturalised Australian novelist and one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors.
Born in Johannesburg, Courtenay spent most of his early years in a small village in the Lebombo Mountains in South Africa’s Limpopo province. In 1955, while studying journalism in London, Courtenay met his future wife, Benita, and eventually emigrated to Australia. They married in 1959 and had three sons, Brett, Adam and Damon.
Courtenay now lives in Bowral, New South Wales, with his partner, Christine Gee.
His novels are primarily set in either Australia, his adopted country, or South Africa, the country of his birth. His first book, The Power of One, was published in 1989 and, despite Courtenay’s fears that it would never sell, quickly became one of Australia’s best-selling books by any living author. The story has since been made into a film—as well as being re-released in an edition for children.
Courtenay is one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors. He has built up this success over the long-term by promoting himself and developing a relationship with readers as much as marketing his books; for instance, he gives away up to 2,500 books free each year to readers he meets in the street.
Despite his success in Australia, only The Power of One has been published in the United States. Courtenay claims that this is because “American publishers for the most part have difficulties about Australia, they are interested in books in their own country first and foremost”.
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