The Power of One (Abridged)

The Power of One (Abridged)

3.3 81
by Bryce Courtenay

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In 1939, hatred took root in South Africa, where the seeds of apartheid were newly sown. There a boy called Peekay was born. He spoke the wrong language–English. He was nursed by a woman of the wrong color–black. His childhood was marked by humiliation and abandonment. Yet he vowed to survive–he would become welterweight champion of the world, he


In 1939, hatred took root in South Africa, where the seeds of apartheid were newly sown. There a boy called Peekay was born. He spoke the wrong language–English. He was nursed by a woman of the wrong color–black. His childhood was marked by humiliation and abandonment. Yet he vowed to survive–he would become welterweight champion of the world, he would dream heroic dreams.
But his dreams were nothing compared to what awaited him. For he embarked on an epic journey, where he would learn the power of words, the power to transform lives, and the mystical power that would sustain him even when it appeared that villainy would rule the world: The Power of One.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
PW wrote of Bryce Courtenay's 1989 adult book, "Episodic and bursting with incident, this sprawling memoir of an English boy's lonely childhood in South Africa during WWII pays moderate attention to questions of race but concerns itself primarily with epic melodrama." In The Power of One: Young Readers' Condensed Version, the author adapts the first half of his semi-autobiographical tale, but keeps all of the action in the boxing ring and the David and Goliath message of victory over adversity. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``Episodic and bursting with incident, this sprawling memoir of an English boy's lonely childhood in South Africa during WW II pays moderate attention to questions of race but concerns itself primarily with epic melodrama,'' noted PW. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-The opening chapters of this haunting autobiographical novel, set in small-town South Africa during World War II, are as bleak and violent as anything written for young people. Five-year-old Peekay is the only English-speaking boy in a harsh Afrikaans-language boarding school. He is urinated on by a pack of older boys, and then beaten for it by the matron. Although he endures many losses, he grows through his experiences. His goal is to become a boxer, and the story shows how hard work can lead to success. Peekay forges loving relationships with adults, most notably Doc, a German professor. When Doc is detained as an enemy alien, Peekay's life becomes intertwined with the local prison. It is there that he learns to box and becomes a secret ally of the black prisoners. Courtenay's deft and chillingly accurate characterization of the Afrikaner prison warders. The author is unsparing in his portrayal of the brutality meted out to prisoners and in his depiction of racist speech. Courtenay's ear for dialogue is impressive, and he consistently captures the cadences of South African speech. Peekay's story is written in a direct, almost childlike style, which sometimes seems bland, but readers will be swept along by the events in the protagonist's life. The book packs a powerful emotional punch, evoking horror, laughter, and empathy. It is a condensed version of the first part of Courtenay's adult book of the same title, and the ending feels artificial and unresolved. In all, this is an extraordinary and unusual survival story, and one that should inspire young people feeling battered by the circumstances of their own lives.-Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama in the boxing ring.”
The New York Times

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


1939: Northern Transvaal, South Africa

This is what happened.
My Zulu nanny was a person made for laughter, warmth and softness and before my life started properly she would clasp me to her breasts and stroke my golden curls with a hand so large it seemed to contain my whole head. My hurts were soothed with a song about a brave young warrior hunting a lion and a women's song about doing the washing down on the rock beside the river where, at sunset, the baboons would come out of the hills to drink.
My life proper started at the age of five when my mother had her nervous breakdown. I was torn from my black nanny with her big white smile and taken from my grandfather's farm and sent to boarding school.
Then began a time of yellow wedges of pumpkin burned black and bitter at the edges; mashed potato with glassy lumps; meat aproned with gristle in gray gravy; diced carrots; warm, wet, flatulent cabbage; beds that wet themselves in the morning; and an entirely new sensation called loneliness.
I was the youngest child in the school by two years and spoke only English while the other children spoke Afrikaans, the language of the Boers, which was the name for the Dutch settlers in South Africa. They called the English settlers Rooinecks, which means "Redneck,'' because in the Boer War, which had happened forty years before between the English and the Dutch settlers, the pale-skinned English troopers got very sunburned and their necks turned bright red.
The English won this war, but it was a terrible struggle and it created a hatred for them by the Boers, which was carried over into the generations that followed. So, here I was, someone who only spoke the language of the people they hated most of all in the world. I was the first Rooineck the Afrikaner kids had ever seen and, I'm telling you, I was in a lot of trouble.
On the first night of boarding school, I was taken by two eleven-year-olds to the seniors' dormitory, to stand trial. I stood there shaking like billy-o and gibbering, unable to understand the language of the twelve-year-old judge, or the reason for the hilarity when the sentence was pronounced. But I guessed the worst. I had been caught deep behind enemy lines and even a five-year-old knows this means the death sentence.
I wasn't quite sure what death was. I knew it was something that happened on the farm in the slaughterhouse to pigs and goats and an occasional heifer and I'd seen it happen often enough to chickens. The squeal from the pigs was so awful that I knew it wasn't much of an experience, even for pigs.
And I knew something else for sure; death wasn't as good as life. Now death was about to happen to me before I could really get the hang of life. Trying hard to hold back my tears, I was dragged off to the shower room. I had never been in a shower room before; it resembled the slaughterhouse on my grandfather's farm and I guessed this was where my death would take place. I was told to remove my pajamas and to kneel inside the recess facing the wall. I looked down into the hole in the floor where all the blood would drain away. I closed my eyes and said a silent, sobbing prayer. My prayer wasn't to God but to my nanny. I felt a sudden splash on my neck and then warm blood trickled over my trembling body. Funny, I didn't feel dead. But who knows what dead feels like?
When the Judge and his council of war had all pissed on me, they left. After a while it got very quiet, just a drip, drip from someplace overhead. I didn't know how to turn the shower on and so had no way of washing myself. At the farm I had always been bathed by my nanny in a tin tub in front of the kitchen stove. She'd soap me all over and Dee and Dum, the two kitchen maids who were twins, would giggle behind their hands when she soaped my little acorn. This was how I knew it was a special part of me. Just how special I was soon to find out. I tried to dry myself with my pajamas. My hands were shaking a lot. I wandered around that big dark place until I found the small kids' dormitory. There I crept under my blanket and came to the end of my first day in life.
I awoke next morning to find the other kids surrounding my bed and holding their noses. I'm telling you, I have to admit it myself, I smelt worse than a kaffir toilet, worse than the pigs at home. The kids scattered as a very large person with a smudge of dark hair above her lip entered. It was the same lady who had left me in the dormitory the night before. "Good morning, Mevrou!" they chorused in Afrikaans, each standing stiffly to attention at the foot of his bed.
The huge woman tore back my blanket and sniffed. "Why, you wet your bed, boy! Sis, man, you stink!" she bellowed. Then, without waiting for my answer, which, of course, I didn't have, she grabbed me by the ear and led me back to the place where they'd pissed on me the night before. Making me take off my pajamas, she pushed me into a recess. I thought desperately, She's even bigger than Nanny. If she pisses on me I will surely drown. There was a sudden hissing sound and needles of icy water drilled into me. I had my eyes tightly shut but the hail of water was remorseless.
If you don't know what a shower is, and have never had one before, then it's not so hard to believe that maybe this is death. A thousand sharp pricks drilled into my skin. How can so much piss possibly come out of one person, I thought. Funny, it should be warm, but this was icy cold, but then I was no expert on these things.
Then the fierce hissing and the icy deluge stopped suddenly. I opened my eyes to find no Mevrou. The Judge stood before me, his pajama sleeve rolled up, his arm wet where he'd reached to turn off the shower. Behind him stood the jury and all the small kids from my dormitory.
The jury formed a ring around me. My teeth were chattering out of control. The Judge pointed to my tiny acorn. "Why you piss your bed, Rooinek?" he asked.
"Hey, look, there is no hat on his snake!" someone yelled. They all crowded closer.
"Pisskop! Pisskop!"--in a moment all the small kids were chanting.
"You hear, you a pisshead," the Judge translated. "Who cut the hat off your snake, Pisskop?"
I looked down. All seemed perfectly normal to me. I looked up at the Judge, confused. The Judge parted his pajama fly. His large "snake" seemed to be a continuous sheath brought down to a point of ragged skin. I must say, it wasn't much of a sight.
More trouble lay ahead of me for sure. I was a Rooinek and a pisskop. I spoke the wrong language. And now I was obviously made differently. But I was still alive, and in my book, where there's life, there's hope.

By the end of the first term I had reduced my persecution to no more than an hour a day. I had the art of survival almost down pat. Except for one thing: I had become a bed wetter. It is impossible to become a perfect adapter if you leave a wet patch behind you every morning.
My day would begin with a bed-wetting caning from Mevrou, a routine that did serve a useful purpose. I learned that crying is a luxury good adapters have to forgo, and I soon had the school record for being thrashed. The Judge said so. I wasn't just a hated Rooinek and a pisskop, I was also a record holder.
The Judge ordered that I only be beaten up a little at a time, and if I could stop being a pisskop he'd stop even that, although he added that, for a Rooinek, this was probably impossible. I was inclined to agree. No amount of resolve on my part seemed to have the least effect.
The end of the first term finally came. I was to return home for the May holidays: home to Nanny, who would listen to my sadness and sleep on her mat at the foot of my bed so the bogeyman couldn't get me. I also intended to inquire whether my mother had stopped breaking down so I would be allowed to stay home.
I rode home joyfully in Dr. "Henny" Boshoff's shiny Chevrolet coupe. As we choofed along, I was no longer a Rooinek and a pisskop but became a great chief. Life was very good. It was Dr. Henny who had first told me about the nervous breakdown, and he now confirmed that my mother was "coming along nicely" but she wouldn't be home just yet. Sadly this put the kibosh on my chances of staying home.
When I arrived at the farm Nanny wept and held me close. It was late summer. The days were filled with song as the field women picked cotton, working their way down the long rows, singing in perfect harmony while they plucked the fluffy white fiber heads from the sun-blackened cotton bolls.
When Nanny couldn't solve a problem for me she'd say, "We must ask Inkosi-Inkosikazi, the great medicine man, he will know what to do." Now Nanny sent a message to Inkosi-Inkosikazi to the effect that we urgently needed to see him on the matter of the child's night water. The message was put on the drums and in two days we heard that Inkosi-Inkosikazi would call in a fortnight or so on his way to visit Modjadji, the great rain queen. The whites of Nanny's eyes would grow big and her cheeks puff out as she talked about the greatness of the medicine man. "He will dry your bed with one throw of the shinbones of the great white ox," she promised.
"Will he also grow skin over my acorn?" I demanded. She clutched me to her breast, her answer lost as she chortled all over me.
The problem of the night water was much discussed by the field women. "Surely a grass sleeping mat will dry in the morning sun? This is not a matter of proper concern for the greatest medicine man in Africa." It was all right for them, of course. They didn't have to go back to the Judge and Mevrou.
Almost two weeks to the day, Inkosi-Inkosikazi arrived in his big black Buick, symbol of his enormous power and wealth, even to the Boers, who despised him yet feared his magic.
All that day the field women brought gifts of food: kaffir corn, squash, native spinach, watermelons, bundles of dried tobacco leaf--and six scrawny kaffir chickens, mostly tough old roosters, their legs tied and their wings clipped.
One scrawny old cock with mottled gray feathers looked very much like my granpa, except for his eyes. Granpa's eyes were pale blue, intended for gazing over soft English landscapes; that old rooster's were sharp as beads of red light.
My granpa came down the steps and walked toward the big Buick. He stopped to kick one of the roosters, for he hated kaffir chickens. His pride and joy were his one hundred black Orpington hens and six giant roosters.
He greatly admired Inkosi-Inkosikazi, who had once cured him of his gallstones. "Never a trace of a gallstone since," he declared. "If you ask me, the old monkey is the best damned doctor in the lowveld."
The old medicine man, like Nanny, was a Zulu. It was said he was the last son of the great Dingaan, the Zulu king who fought both the Boers and the British to a standstill. Two generations after the Boers had finally defeated his Impi at the Battle of Blood River, they remained in awe of Dingaan.
Two years after the battle, Dingaan, reeling from the combined forces of his half brother Mpande and the Boers, had sought refuge among the Nyawo people on the summit of the great Lebombo mountains. On the night he was treacherously assassinated by Nyawo tribesmen he had been presented with a young virgin, and his seed was planted in her womb.
"Where I chose blood, this last of my sons will choose wisdom. You will call him Inkosi-Inkosikazi, he will be a man for all Africa," Dingaan had told the Nyawo maiden.
This made the small, wizened black man who was being helped from the Buick one hundred years old.
Inkosi-Inkosikazi was dressed in a mismatched suit, the jacket brown, the trousers blue pinstripe. A mangy leopard-skin cloak fell from his shoulders. In his right hand he carried a beautifully beaded fly switch, the symbol of an important chief. His hair was whiter than raw cotton, tufts of snowy beard sprang from his chin and only three yellowed teeth remained in his mouth. His eyes burned sharp and clear, like the eyes of the old rooster.
My granpa briefly welcomed Inkosi-Inkosikazi and granted him permission to stay overnight on the farm. The old man nodded, showing none of the customary obsequiousness expected from a kaffir, and my granpa shook the old man's bony claw and returned to his chair on the stoep.
Nanny, who had rubbed earth on her forehead like all the other women, finally spoke. "Lord, the women have brought food and we have beer freshly fermented."
Inkosi-Inkosikazi ignored her, which I thought was pretty brave of him, and ordered one of the women to untie the cockerels. With a squawking and flapping of stunted wings all but one rose and dashed helter-skelter toward open territory. The old cock who looked like Granpa rose slowly, then, calm as you like, he walked over to a heap of corn and started pecking away.
"Catch the feathered devils," Inkosi-Inkosikazi suddenly commanded.
With squeals of delight the chickens were rounded up again. The ice had been broken as five of the women, each holding a chicken upside down by the legs, waited for the old man's instructions. Inkosi-Inkosikazi squatted down and with his finger traced five circles, each about two feet in diameter, in the dust, muttering incantations. Then he signaled for one of the women to bring over a cockerel. Grabbing the old bird and using its beak as a marker, he retraced the first circle on the ground, then laid the cockerel inside the circle, where it lay unmoving. He proceeded to do the same thing to the other four chickens until each lay in its own circle. As each chicken was laid to rest there would be a gasp of amazement from the women.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Bryce Courtenay was born in South Africa, is an Australian, and has
lived in Sydney for the major part of his life. Visit him on the web at

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Power of One (Abridged) 3.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 81 reviews.
ml1033 More than 1 year ago
I am posting this as a warning to those purchasing this Nook book. I was hoping to purchase the original The Power of One and ended up with the Young Reader's Condensed version. I have no interest in the Young Reader's version, and the original does not appear to be available for the Nook. The description does not state that it is the condensed version. I am very disappointed. Beware when you purchase this for your Nook!
Ross_in_Flagstaff More than 1 year ago
A friend gave me some book recommendations and The Power of One was one of them. I purchased the Nook version and enjoyed the book. But, at the very end (after the glossary) is a note that I'd just read the young reader's version and that this version "only told half the story." What the hell? Nowhere in the description does B&N let you know this. So, as others have warned, don't buy this version unless you specifically want the condensed version. Edit/Add: Goodbye B&N, at least for Nook books. I love and frequent your store. I've also been a B&N club member for years. But, I won't be buying any more electronic books from you. I emailed customer service and clearly (and politely) explained the problem. I also pointed them to this book's page, where they can read the many reviews from others who were misled. I even have a screenshot of the B&N web page for this book - it clearly shows a picture of, and describes, the FULL version, but as we've found out the link on that page is for the CONDENSED electronic book. Their advertising in this respect may not be false, as I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's an error. But the response was "our records show you successfully downloaded the book" and went on to explain that they do not give refunds or credits. Well of course I downloaded the book, as that's the only way to find out it's not the book which is advertised. I'm not so unhappy that they made a mistake. Those happen. But, when given the opportunity to correct the page and issue a credit so that I could apply it towards the full print book, they accepted no responsibility for their error. So, since I'm using an Android tablet for my reader and have other options, I downloaded my new book for another reader app. If B&N reads these reviews, perhaps they'll take the second chance to make things right. If not, then I guess that's the end of Nook books for me...
KateJSM More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading this book for school and decided to buy it for my nook, well i also have a book at school and just realized thatthis version is only half the story! I just got done reading a few other reveiws and they confirmed that its not the whole story. I am very upset because it left out so many parts and i would of liked to know this wasnt thefull version instead of being completly confused in class discusions and while reading the text from my hard copy of the real version and switching to reading off my nook. It was very confusing and upseting. It should say in the discription that this is not the full version, i didnt even think of reading the reviews untill it was too late. And now i cant even finish reading this off my nook because it is not the full story and i am required to know thefull story.
Ronald Roy More than 1 year ago
Like others I purchased the version for young readers in error.I think our money should be refunded.
TEST NOOKUSER More than 1 year ago
I think its ridiculous that it does not state anywhere that this is a condensed version. I spoke on behalf of a customer today to our instore support and was able to get a credit for $6.99 for the customer. I did also recommend thay they put somewhere in the overview that its an abridged version. Its sad to see the company lose customers over something so fixable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed when I got this book and found out it was some kind of junior edition. In my opinion the original book is one of my top ten books and a must read for just about anyone. Some of the topics covered may be to intense for someone before 13 or so unless they are a more mature child, so maybe they shouldn't read it until they are older, but why chop it up and water it down. I find it very upsetting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do not want the reader's digest version. I am very upset that I bought this before I knew it was not the real thing! WHAT THE HECK
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Be Careful when purchasing this eBook -- I thought I was purchasing the FULL book, but it turned out to be the young readers condensed edition...definitely NOT what I was wanting to purchase. Very disappointing....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So disappointed. This is the young reader's condensed version of the book, which is not specified anywhere in the description!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not realize this was the condensed children's version of the original book until after it was purchased. After reading a few chapters, I purchased the hard copy of the complete book.
CharlieB117 More than 1 year ago
Just want to confirm the last post. I too was misled into buying this condensed version.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book during a trip to the library in High School, and it touched me very deeply. It is such a powerful book, full of human emotion and redemption. I've heard great things about the sequel, Tandia, and am currently trying to find it to read...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Courtney does a fabulous job! The main character is amazing, the setting is incredible and the conflicts are thought provoking. This is by far one of my favorite books! If you get a chance to travel overseas look for the sequel, 'Tandia,' as it is not sold in the U.S.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it in school years ago in school loved it then love it now...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This isnot the whole book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of the book. Please make this clearer. About to contact B&N for a refund.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I fell for the same thing.  I ordered the ebook thinking it was the full version. However, I contacted customer service through their éclat, and got a full refund.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buyer beware! This is not the full book and B&N gave no indication that this is not the full version. I feel that I was mislead and cheated. Going to get the full version from my library and am now considering purchasing a Kindle. Very disappointed with B&N.
Charmed9 More than 1 year ago
The book itself is fantastic, but this is NOT the correct version! The comments from 2011 state this is a young adult version and still in 2014 it is not changed. Description does not tell you it is a condensed version and the full version is not available on Nook. B&N should be ashamed of themselves for letting this happen and not responding to customer complaints.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read this book several times, as well as the sequel but it is one I never get tired of. I found it in a clearance bin years ago and bought it on a wim, but as soon as i started reading i couldnt put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not realize when I purchased the book that this was a "young adult version" of The Power of One. It was not well marked as a children's edition. Instead of the full 500+ pages and the complete story, this version has just over 200 pages and only 2 of the 3 sections of the novel. B & N should offer both editions and CLEARLY distinguish between the two. The story is compelling and a great read, with insight into the dawning of apartheid and the clash of cultures in South Africa.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book ,lots to learn about but would be hard to read if you are anon south african,or don'tknow Afrikaans or Zulu.Totally kept me very intrested in the begining.