Publication Date: February 21st 1989
Publisher: Heinemann (Australia) Random House (USA)
I have been really excited to start this book ever since we picked it up at our favorite used bookstore. I have never heard of it before, but I liked the cover (not that you should judge a book by it’s cover), and the quote from the New York Times on the front sucked me right in.
“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence, mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”
After reading a string of unusual books I was really ready for a good story. I want to be entertained, and this book seems to have all the potential to get me hooked.
I am a little bit more reticent about this book, I am not as taken with the cover as you American Girl and it sounds a bit too much like a self-help / spiritual book which isn’t really my thing. However I have been wrong in the past about our list, with books being a lot better (and worse) than I was expecting. Let the journey into South Africa commence…
Luckily, I was able to get into this book within the first few pages. It is a very easy read and I never struggled with the dialect or in understanding what was going on. This book takes place in 1939, while Hitler is in rule and apartheid is just beginning in South Africa. It is told from a young boy’s (Peekay’s) perspective. Due to all of this, I always had a feeling of impending doom while reading the novel. Surely nothing good would happen to this boy during this tumultuous time?? I quickly realized though, that it was not that type of book. If you want to hear about the horrors of Hitler and apartheid, this is not your book. Instead, this is a book of resilience, a book of hope, a book of the “power of one”.
I too found myself instantly sucked into this epic story, I think maybe a bit more than the previous owner of the book ‘Tara Scully’, obviously a book used for college or high school she only managed to annotate the first 4 pages before giving up. The book was a very easy read and although it took me a while to read from beginning to end I never felt it was an effort to pick up and be instantly drawn back into the story. I also felt that this was going down a path whereby bad things would happen to our likable antagonist, however even though it wasn’t plain sailing the unerring level of positivity oozed out of the pages. This was a very spiritual book which I actually connected with and rather than being tedious or unduly quirky it was a very very good read.
For me I enjoyed the historical exposure to apartheid, even if it was only a backdrop to the novel. Brit Boy seems to know a lot more about apartheid, and I don’t know if this is a difference in U.S. vs U.K. history class, or if I just missed it in my classes… Regardless, the older I get, the larger thirst I have for knowledge. I don’t want to be naïve with what is going on and with what has happened in our world, so I love the further exposure to these issues that seemed to have somehow missed my education. I would be interested in reading more books centered around this topic in the future.
Originally part of the British Empire and now part of the commonwealth South Africa has always been a part of the world I was aware of. Especially growing up in the 80’s, the plight of Nelson Mandela languishing in prison and his subsequent release was always well publicized on UK TV. The backdrop of apartheid always being heavily reported at the same time. His plight was also captured in several pop songs of my childhood. The two which instantly spring to mind are ‘Mandela Day’ by Simple Minds
and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by The Special AKA.
Anyway, back to The Power of One… The book encompasses the vast majority of Peekay’s life over many decades. As such it is broken into three distinct “books”. While I enjoyed each “book” it always took me a little while to get back into it when the story would shift to the next “book”. One intrinsic quality that was sewn through the entire story is Peekay’s ability to not only survive but also to positively impact the lives of all those around him. Even though the book is fiction it is hard not to be inspired by Peekay.
Peekay is very definitely an inspiration and I did warm to the character instantly, I loved the way that he positively touched everyone he met, and despite the trials and tribulations which affected his life his upbeat attitude and good nature shone through. This book did feel autobiographical in nature and it was so well written I had to stop myself from looking him up several times on the web. The characterization was brilliant and I cared about what happened to all the characters whether good or bad.
“I had come to identify with my camouflage to the point where the masquerade had become more important than the truth. While this posturing was so finely tuned it was no longer deliberate, it had nevertheless been born out of a compulsion to hide. As a small child I had discovered that only two places are available to those who wish to remain concealed. The choices are to be a nonentity or an exception. You either disappear into a plebian background or move forward to where most others fear to follow.”
I will admit the book wasn’t a true page-turner for me. A large portion of the book was focused on boxing, which is a foreign concept to me. While I have a greater respect for boxers after reading this book I still could’ve used with a little less of it throughout the story. I didn’t realize until well into the story that boxing would play such an integral part of the plot. (Ironically, Mohammed Ali died while I was in the middle of reading this book so from that point on I thought of Mr. Ali whenever I ready about Peekay and his boxing adventures.)
Now this is where we differ….. I loved the boxing aspect of the book, the fights had enough description for you to feel part of the action but not enough to be too long or monotonous. The book was a true page turner for me but I just didn’t find enough time to do this book justice. I was always ready to keep reading whenever a picked it up, time just wasn’t on my side.
I would strongly recommend this book, one of the best on the list so far, and will likely read it again at some point in the future. This definitely is deserving of a place on our list maybe higher than its number suggests. I just hope that Tara Scully stuck with it until the end as she will have definitely missed out if she didn’t. Next stop a real British classic……
Overall, I thought this was worth the read. I don’t think it will stick with me forever but mainly because I never identified fully with any of the characters. However, we could all learn something from Peekay and his outlook on life. That piece did resonate with me. For this, and the historical undertone of the story, I definitely think this deserves a spot on this list.
“The power of one is above all things the power to believe in yourself, often well beyond any latent ability you may have previously demonstrated.”
Its worth noting that this was made into a movie in 1992 starring Morgan Freeman as Geel Piet, maybe this is worth viewing for our other Blog, American Girl?