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The Power of One

The Power of One

4.5 154
by Bryce Courtenay

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“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”
–The New York Times

“Unabashedly uplifting . . . asserts forcefully what all of us would like to believe: that the individual, armed with the spirit of independence–‘the power of


“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”
–The New York Times

“Unabashedly uplifting . . . asserts forcefully what all of us would like to believe: that the individual, armed with the spirit of independence–‘the power of one’–can prevail.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

In 1939, as Hitler casts his enormous, cruel shadow across the world, the seeds of apartheid take root in South Africa. There, a boy called Peekay is born. His childhood is marked by humiliation and abandonment, yet he vows to survive and conceives heroic dreams–which are nothing compared to what life actually has in store for him. He embarks on an epic journey through a land of tribal superstition and modern prejudice where he will learn the power of words, the power to transform lives, and the power of one.

“Totally engrossing . . . [presents] the metamorphosis of a most remarkable young man and the almost spiritual influence he has on others . . . Peekay has both humor and a refreshingly earthy touch, and his adventures, at times, are hair-raising in their suspense.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Marvelous . . . It is the people of the sun-baked plains of Africa who tug at the heartstrings in this book. . . . [Bryce] Courtenay draws them all with a fierce and violent love.”
–The Washington Post Book World


“A compelling tale.”
–The Christian Science Monitor

Editorial Reviews

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.

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.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Movie Tie-In Edition
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Product dimensions:
8.16(w) x 5.64(h) x 1.15(d)
1080L (what's this?)

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 www.brycecourtenay.com.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Power of One 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 154 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very disappointed that the nook book was not the complete book...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had the same experience trying to purchase for my Nook. the young edition was not what I expected.
Mytimeout93 More than 1 year ago
This is a great book, please read it! But if you have a Nook and are looking forward to the full story....you will be disapointed. I purchased this book for my Nook and it turned out to be the shortened (school book) version. I am very disapointed that this was not better labeled and that the full version is not offered on the nook.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had a project in my World History class, we were required to read a historical fiction novel. I never really read much historical fiction books. I just so happen to find this book at Barnes & Nobles and read all the great reviews about it. At first glance this looked like the size of my algebra text book. But after the first chapter I was hooked. I had to know more, I had to keep going. I couldn't put the book down! This novel following Peekay to when he is 5, until he is free from the Judge, and all the people he met, the lives he changed, and the lives he would touch. I really don't know what to say about this book, other than it capturing my imagination and almost making me tear up at parts. I'm 15, rather short, and asian. At times I could almost relate to what Peekay felt. This novel is just so powerful, in feelings and emotional. It almost reaches out and pulls you into it. Though whe i reached the last few pages, I got really upset because it was about to end. I didn't want it to end... 'First with the head then with the heart' -Hoppie
NitintheIndian More than 1 year ago
The power of One by Bryce Courtenay is a very deep and thoughtful book with tranquility and culture. It is a very emotional book and been developed into a movie. It shows that even in the depths of hatred, a little boy can become something big. I really liked that the author put lots of history into this book. The locations and racism were all things that really happened. It spans from the end of World War II to a few decades after. This book shows a place that is out of reach of Hitler’s Nazi party, but is still affected by it, and dealing with the aftermath. It has a lot of culture, such as when the author uses practices from different African tribes and where the main character can speak different languages. The main character brings together the different tribes of Africa and unites them. He becomes known as a reborn war chief, set to free the Africans, because he speaks for the people. He suffers many losses, but he rises out of those losses and helps the people. The main character is a boxer, and he fights for the people of Africa. He has never lost a fight, because he is the symbol of freedom, and freedom never loses. It starts with a simple idea that a friend placed in his head, like a revolution, and it grew until he was he was fighting to become a winner, to win the championship, and win the revolution. Something I do not like in this movie is how the child talks in the beginning. It is almost as if he cannot do anything about his situation, like he’s given up. He also puts too much faith in things that are not to be trusted. As a kid, he put all his faith in his pet chicken, which later died. Overall, this was an amazing book, and I think it shows the true spirit of Africa.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Power of One is one of the greatest books I have ever read. I first read it over a summer vacation and I fell in love with it. Although the story can be graphic at times the story is one that all people should know. It is full of highs and lows that make your heart wrench and soar; Bryce Courtenay is a literary master in this regard. I would have to say that this is a must read for all people over the age of 13 because it is truly shows that nothing can hold you back if you try your best and have the right people to surround you.
WillToeffort More than 1 year ago
A boy born in 1939 South Africa comes of age. I nominate it for best novel of all the ones that I have read. I am actually still reading it, but saw the film version, which is think is the best film that I ever saw. Don't miss it either one. If you are looking for a book gift for a boy or young man, he'll love this. It has Zulu wisdom and wisdom of Peekay's grandfather. Peekay suffers from discrimination - he's British in an Afrikaner boarding school. The stress of it causes bedwetting. On a visit home, his Zula Nanny sends a message to great Zulu medicine man, Inkosi-Inkosikazi about Peekay's night water problem. Two weeks later the Inkosi arrives in his big black Buick. The story of how he cures Peekay's night water and the rest of Peekay's maturing are so wonderful and realistic that I'm sure that you'll love this novel as much as I do.
readerandteacher More than 1 year ago
This is my my favorite book, my husband's favorite book, and everyone we give it to loves it. Even my father, who only reads historical non-fiction, surprised himself by staying up late at night to read it. The little boy is an incredible character - strong, brave, and humorous. The characters are developed so well that I find myself comparing them to friends and family members. This book is great for women and men, teenagers and adults. There is some violence and discussion of apartheid and racism, so while it's an enjoyable read, it's very thought-provoking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked this up on a whim and it is one of the best books that I have read in a long time and one of the most enjoyable ever. It plays off of the history of South Africa very well and includes wonderful characters with passion and depth. Peekay's growth takes us all on a journey of revelation. This can be in everyone's library and should be an important work for all young people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book!!! First read it when I was 15 after the movie came out and it has been one of my favorites since then. It's an amazing story and the movie is good but leaves out so much (it is a very long book). If you liked the movie reading the book is a must! I wish that the authors other books were also available in the US especially Tandia which was the sequel for this one (though not as good). I purchased Tandia while living in Thailand and was about 3/4's of the way through it then I lost it in an airport. I really wish I could get a new copy so I could finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book should be required reading for all high school students or, at least, college freshman. There has obviously been much tension among the various groups of people in the Union of South Africa, and this was a good location for the story as so many racial, ethic and religious groups live in this country. The book provokes much inward thought about ourselves and how we percieve others. This is an excellent book for a group to read and discuss. Although the story line seemed more masculine, I think women would also gain insight from reading the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was beautifully written and gave a facinating scenic, political, and spiritual look into South Africa around the time of WWII. The first half of the novel was my favorite when Peekay meets his mentors, Hoppie, Doc, and Mrs Boxell all who turn his life around. These central characters question and transend much of the hate and prejudice of the time. Because of this I was very surprised by the ending which to me was a kind of twisted form of justice/revenge. Hate can not be responded to by hate in my opinion...and in the opinion of many characters in the novel, making the ending seem out of place.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was one of my favorites! I stayed up late every night reading it! I could never put it down.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
If you saw a movie with the same name, IT IS NOT THE SAME STORY! What the movie did to this wonderful story should be grounds for prosecution! There are a few books I have read more than once. There are fewer that I have read repeatedly, those are the books that speak to the parts of me that are most human, those areas that are awakened when the story being told connects with the Myths that help to define me. This is the third time I have read Mr. Courtenay’s first novel. Each time I do, I hear the whisper of his tale connecting with The Story lived daily in me and in my world. This is a chronicle of a young boy, at home in a country that does not want his kind, becoming a man, in a time of war and civil turmoil that will define a nation for the next Fifty years, with only his intelligence, physical prowess and a deep determination to become a person defined only by himself. He is an outcast who becomes a symbol of hope and power for a People displaced within their own land. Peekay, as the hero declares his name, is from a once wealthy British family whose wealth was held in his the only home he has known, South Africa. When he was five, his mother became incapable of caring for him; his care-takers send him to a boarding school of such bleakness that it would have frightened Charles Dickens. Having survived that ordeal, he receives word that he is being called home, except the “home” to which he is called is hundreds of kilometers from the one he left. On the train ride to this new place, he befriends a conductor who is also an aspiring boxer. Peekay has the opportunity to witness his first boxing match on this journey and what he sees awakens one of his life’s’ aims – he will become the Welter-Weight Champion of the World. This is the dream is the engine that will drive him for the rest of our journey with him. Into the strange land he is now required to call “home,” amid strangers to care for him, he befriends an aged German music scholar and amateur botanist, “Doc,” who becomes the sage/saint/teacher/friend Peekay needs to learn how to blossom into the individual who can harness the power of One that is within him. Along with Doc’s tutelage and his determination to become a champion boxer, there is magic that surrounds Peekay, at least in the eyes of the native tribes whose “home” is the land upon which the story unfolds. He is deemed to be Tadpole Angel by “The People,” as the natives understand themselves to be. His works in helping them to read and write, feed their families and, eventually, lay waste to those who seek to oppress them, are proof enough that Peekay is the one who can help The People reclaim what was once their homeland but has been laid claim to by those who wish to own what cannot be bought and belongs to everyone. By the time this reader bid Peekay farewell, he was convinced that the Tadpole Angel did possess “The Power of One.” The timeliness of this book, each time I have read it, is uncanny. At present, our nation is embroiled in a tug-of-war between whom we can (see) ourselves to be and where we actually are. The lack of servant-leadership, lawlessness, selfish consumerism revealed by our apparent distain for each other magnify the need for a clear, moral Voice to call each of us to attention. We are, each of us, connected to the other; the oppressor imprisons him/herself with those they wish to oppress,
ImogenEpping More than 1 year ago
A friend gave me this book in grade 8, when I had no concept of the way things were across history and in other cultures. It made a lasting impact on my life and is still among my all time favourite books. If you like masterful storytelling, intricate details, interwoven storylines, and powerful emotions, you need to read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am really disappointed that B&N would not make it clear that the ebook version of this book is a condensed version for young readers. My book club chose this book so now I have to buy it in paperback. Grrrrr.....very frustrating.
MaggyBerlin More than 1 year ago
Disappointed that I only got one half of the book in the nook version. B&N has made a big mistake here by not letting the purchaser know that. Please, if you want the full story, buy it from some other source so that our voices will be heard, in B&N's bottom line, where it will count. If you read the entire book, you will know that it is an excellent book...I have to blame the author here as well, to allow this is just wrong.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BobJ More than 1 year ago
This story centered around a boy growing up in South Africa in the 1940's. Gave a good historical and cultural perspective of that time and place. We cared about the characters and the plot was engaging. You really wanted to know what happened next!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I should have read the reviews first; I fell into the trap of buying the condensed junior version.  Barnes and Noble needs to fix their site.  It looks like the Nook version will be 544 pages long since the paperback and Nook versions are on the same page.  Shame on Barnes and Noble!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Subway_Reader More than 1 year ago
All the positive reviews here leave me stunned since I thought this was easily one of the most overrated, simplistic, and offensive novels I've ever read. After a reasonably strong and interesting beginning it got stuck in a one-note rut and was just a chore to finish. The book is billed as a triumph of the human spirit over adversity, but aside from the initial hardship at school when Peekay is a small English student among some cruel Boers what adversity is there? OK, he's poor, has no father and his mother is a Jesus freak. But he's also white in South Africa, a near genius, has no flaws, never loses a single boxing match and is surrounded by loving, supportive people who are willing to spend seemingly endless amounts of time nurturing and educating him for no apparent reason. There is none of the real-life tension that comes from overcoming hardship, or dealing with one's own weaknesses. Courtenay, to his credit, consistently attacks bigotry, from the English, the Boers, or the Nazis, be it against blacks, Indians or Jews (although sexism gets only occasional mention in the book). But aside from some small attention paid to the inmate who teaches Peekay to box and his two housekeepers Courtenay doesn't develop a single non-white character. Most of the blacks in the book are one-dimensional, almost caricatures of the "noble savage", who do not develop their own leadership against apartheid as happened historically. (The book extends into the 1950s when the ANC and organizers like Nelson Mandela became a potent force, but that doesn't get a mention.) Instead the blacks literally worship this white student whose main role in the bitter struggle against apartheid seems to come from providing some kind of inexplicable, mystical inspiration, which not surprisingly never rings remotely true and descends to the truly offensive by the end. The black workers, as portrayed by Courtenay, are incapable of fighting for themselves, but have to rely on the generosity and leadership of whites. Courtenay does give some descriptions of the brutality against blacks in prison and the workplace, which can be gripping, but in fact spends a lot more time on the tension between the English and the Boers, the "white tribes", than he does in exposing the horrors of apartheid. Peekay, pointlessly not given a real name, in the end is a one-dimensional, larger than life character who's not believable, and Courtenay doesn't muddy the waters with anything real such as weaknesses, mistakes, genuine hardship, or even love or sex. And his final symbol of the triumph over racism in a shockingly brutal ending--the English Union Jack superceding the swastika--ignores the struggle of the oppressed black majority (how many of his fellow Australians share his ardent affection for the Union Jack is something he'd probably rather not think about). The book clearly had high aspirations but didn't reach them. I can only give the book one star for the anti-racism and the effort, and that's a stretch. For truly strong fiction about South Africa, pass Courtenay by and get to Athol Fugard, Nadine Gordimer, or Zakes Mda.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So, why hasn't anyone from Barnes and Noble answered this issue of selling a condensed version without clearly telling the buyers?. And, are these reviews talking about the complete novel or the Nook Book version? Are other Nook Books condensed? How will I be able to tell if I buy it? I prefer to get complete novels but I would like to be able to read them on my Nook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago