Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Second Book Club, Book #3

It takes a commitment to get all the way through this book. Five hundred pages isn't necessarily long, but this book is the definition of dense. This is one of the most detailed accounts of a single life I've seen. The sheer volume of life, Peekay, the main character, lives before reaching adulthood is overwhelming.

It's more than just what happens to Peekay throughout his childhood that got me, it's what he accomplishes. Born in South Africa as WWII settles in on the world, as a white, English person, he struggles with his place. He's hated by the Boer or Afrikaner whites, yet held as a superior to the black community, often referred to as The People. Each sect speaks their own variety of languages, honors their own superstitions, and manifests their own hate and prejudice. Peekay learns quickly that language helps bridge the gap and uses it to reach into the lives of others in a way that ultimately proves productive. He uses it to spearhead prison reform in his own town and help educate men in poor communities. It's also what makes him different, exposing him to pain, suffering, and abuse compounded by his heritage.

Starting out ignorant to the world, thrust into a community of young, aggressive boys, survival is hard for Peekay. Pain taints his early years at boarding school as he questions the best strategy for survival, but he makes it. With the help of some very intelligent, supportive, insightful, and kind individuals, Peekay learns how to not only get through the complicated life in South Africa, but how to thrive and inspire others. Education, compassion, and boxing end up serving as his tools, along with a willingness to challenge the system. As he gets older, Peekay becomes a symbol of a life where the lines between races blur and people help one another.

Through great sadness and great success, and a little luck, Peekay finds the power of one, the courage to be different and think for himself. It puts him into position to face down his biggest challenge and overcome his deepest pain. While the route he takes may be a little questionable in the end, this way of thinking sustains him through his childhood in a way that opens doors for his future.

This is a powerful book, exploring race in South Africa within the life of a single individual. A little disjointed in parts, with an ending I'm still on the fence about, if you've the time to put into this book, it's worth a read. I'd suggest getting a friend to read it with you though. I feel as if it's the kind of book you'll want to talk about as you go.