Tuesday, September 13, 2011

THE POWER OF ONE by Bryce Courtenay

I have been reluctant to read this book, because I expected it to be preachy with an Ayn Rand individualism message. I wasn't far off, but the tone is chatty rather than portentous, and that makes the message a little easier to digest. I rather enjoyed the first part of the book, where Peekay (a name he gives himself so that he never forgets an insulting nickname) is a young, tortured English boy in a South African prep school. After he becomes an accomplished pianist, botanist, geologist, pugilist, reformist, linguist, etc., the book loses its punch, and I began to lose interest. The title obviously refers to a person who achieves success by means of his own grit, determination, and resources. However, two people, in separate incidences, give their lives in order to save Peekay's, so that he gets by with more than a little help from his friends, as he takes one too many unnecessary risks. Plus, at over 500 pages, the length of this book is somewhat daunting and not really necessary, according to me. What I did like, though, was the history lesson. The book takes place mostly in the 1940s, and the taking of sides in South Africa for and against Hitler was interesting. The Boers disliked the Brits; therefore, they liked Hitler, because the Brits hated Hitler, or something like that. Ironically, Peekay's very good friend and mentor, Doc, is an ex-pat German and is arrested on trumped-up charges of being a Nazi spy. Doc has to wait out the war in prison, albeit with much more freedom than his fellow inmates. I think there is supposed to be some humor herein, but I had trouble finding any, although the treatment of religion qualifies. Like Ayn Rand, Bryce Courtenay has a good bit to say about born-again Christians, and none of it is good. Peekay's mother tells him that eventually God will stop trying to save him, and Peekay can only hope that his mother will follow God's lead.

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