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Literature / The Power of One

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First with the head, then with the heart.
First Edition

The Power of One (1989) is a novel by Bryce Courtenay set in South Africa just before and during World War II. It follows the life of an English boy known only as Peekay after his mother suffers a nervous breakdown and he gets sent to an Afrikaner Boarding School of Horrors. After leaving the school, Peekay gets on a train for Barberton and meets Hoppie Groenwald, the train guard and a welterweight boxer. After witnessing Hoppie's match, the young boy is entranced by the sport and encouraged by Hoppie to become the welterweight champion of the world.

A film adaption was released in 1992. It scores a 2 on the Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification. It should not be confused with the second feature-length Pokémon movie, which in English bears the same title.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: The movie changes the name of Peekay's chicken from Grandpa Chook to Mother Courage.
  • The Alcoholic: In a few passages, Doc is noted to be a bit too fond of the drink for his own good. At one point, this leads to him lashing out at a couple of boorish cops (though, admittedly, they deserved it), and he's thrown in the clink as a result.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Subverted with Doc, and becomes a major plot point when he is sent to prison.
  • Combat Pragmatist: When Peekay's boxing opponent drinks water, he focuses on punching him in the gut. Ouch.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Maria's father is not pleased when he learns of her relationship with Peekay.
  • Distinguishing Mark: The Judge's crude Swastika.
  • During the War: One of the earliest events in the novel is The Judge mentioning Adolf Hitler's invasion of Poland. Hoppie is later drafted to fight the Nazis.
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  • Embarrassing Nickname: Pisskop (Afrikaans for "Pisshead"), from which "Peekay" is derived. Also Rooinek ("Red Neck"), a disparaging term for Brits.
  • Friendless Background: At the start, Peekay has absolutely no friends among his peers; the only people to whom he is remotely close are his elders. As time goes on, however, he starts to befriend people in his own age group.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: As the cover might suggest, boxing is central to the novel.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Peekay's mother is rather uninvolved with her son's rearing, even after she returns for him.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Peekay himself. He is distinguished by the traits of extreme generosity and a love for people of all races, but he rarely passes judgment on others.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Peekay is ridiculously intelligent (both naturally and from being tutored by Doc) and as such has no friends outside the boxing squad until he goes to The Prince of Wales School halfway through the book.
  • Kid Hero: Peekay, who goes from a timid and friendless child to a resourceful, confident, and stout-hearted young man.
  • Mighty Whitey: Having been raised primarily by his Zulu nurse, Peekay is sympathetic to the struggles of South Africa's indigenous peoples, but still, the fact that he tries to solve the problem by himself makes him come across as a "White Savior," which is bound to ruffle more than a few readers' feathers.
  • Mood Whiplash: The first few chapters of the book are a nightmarish Boarding School of Horrors story. After that Peekay gets on a train back to home and suddenly the mood and events of the story turn more upbeat.
  • Parental Abandonment: Peekay's mother suffered a breakdown following his birth, so he was raised by his Zulu nurse.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Judge, who declares his support for the Nazis, and intends to follow their genocidal example against the English-descended South Africans, as well as obviously supporting suppression of black Africans under apartheid.
  • The Reveal: Jaapie Botha is actually The Judge.
  • Shout-Out: In the movie Peekay's chicken Mother Courage is a reference to Mother Courage and Her Children.
  • Suicide by Pills: Doc, Peekay's teacher and best friend, decides on a whim that his time has come after everyone else in South Africa accuses him of being a German spy. He dies quietly and neatly by overdosing on pills inside the Crystal Cave of Africa, where he and Peekay used to explore.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Peekay, who starts out a meek and put-upon boy, and becomes stronger and more outspoken as the story progresses, standing up for the black South Africans, and finally getting his revenge on Jaapie Botha at the very end.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Jackhammer Smit and Jaapie Botha. The "unskilled" part is their undoing.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Hoppie's strategy to take down the heavyweight Jackhammer Smit is to effectively blind him with punches to the eye. Peekay is entranced by this sort of tactic and uses it when he takes up boxing.

Alternative Title(s): The Power Of One