Bryce Courtenay
The Power of One
Book Review by Author Ross Anthony

Recommended by a valued friend as one of the books that had a profound effect on her life, I purchased and dove into The Power of One.

The first chapters, while well written and captivating, are nonetheless painful and abusive to the main character (who is also telling the story). Some readers may be put off by this, especially because at this point he is only five years old. But, thankfully, the overall is not a story of being abused, it’s a story of rising phoenix-like out of that abuse.

Immediately we are sympathetic to the young tortured protagonist, so we root for him, we learn as he learns, and embark into the great unknown along with him. He, through his story, is also encouraging us to overcome the obstacles, crises, and antagonists in our own lives. The gems of wisdom (he learns from the many mentors who invest in him) are ours to take to heart as well. This story really drew me in.

Set in South Africa around the time of WWII, race is a major player in this book. I’ve read reviews that found the book racist and I’ve read reviews that found the book critical of racism. My feeling is both of these statements are true, with a leaning toward the later. (See quotes from the book below.) Perhaps Huck Finn is a fair example of a book with a similar problem. In fact, I felt quite a resonance between Twain’s satirical humor and Courtenay’s, especially when Courtenay is addressing religion. (Again, see quotes below.)

I enjoyed 85% of this book thoroughly. In fact, I thought it’d make a great mini-series, especially because as Peekay (the main character) grows, he finds himself in ever changing curious challenges, but always manages to find a mentor to help him navigate. He takes to heart what he has learned and excels, making the book creatively entertaining and philosophically (almost spiritually) inspiring. And that brings us to the last 15% of the book. Those last couple of chapters have such a different feel and even heart from the rest of the book, I wonder what the author was thinking. Sadly, this reader was left disappointed. I read many other reviews that felt similarly, so it isn’t just my impression.

SPOILER ALERT (A discussion of the ending): Towards the end of the book, Peekay can choose between a rising star career in boxing or high placement at an excellent University. He’s confused by his own desires and the expectations of those who love him (even revere him). This is where many readers might get frustrated with him. In order to make sure he’s making decisions for himself, he ducks from both options and instead spends a year working in dangerous copper mines. As a reader, I was willing to see where this tangent was going. I respected his choice. Courtenay leaves all else far behind, and so details the copper mine chapters that it nearly feels like another book. Was he unsure as how to end ... and delaying? I was open minded, and enjoying learning about mining, but ultimately I felt this shaft lead to no gems, but instead, to two major disappointments. The first: A character named Rasputin is built up and then killed off. It’s not that he was killed (though I didn't see the necessity), it was that he died saving the life of Peekay whose unnecessary choices put Rasputin in that position. I couldn’t help but think: had Peekay been braver or wiser, Rasputin would not have died. This was a frustration. But the bigger frustration was that Peekay didn’t seem to share that frustration. Sure, he showed respect for his dead friend, but felt no guilt nor responsibility, and in fact, seems to move so very swiftly on to the next thing. Seems to me, Rasputin deserved more grief and introspection. Worse yet, Courtenay ends the book by contriving a coincidence in bringing the major bully from Peekay's childhood to the mines in a rather surprising and clumsy book-ending boxing match. Neverminding the lofty goal Peekay has been talking about the better half of his life, the book instead ends on a revenge grudge. It seemed so beneath all we’d learned together. Is revenge part of the self-belief and inner growth that “The Power of One” teaches?

Upon reflection, I see how he foreshadowed this with the mambo snake, but … no. Doesn’t work. This is not a standalone book. It’s as if Courtenay and or his publisher decided that they may have a superhero series of sorts on their hands and decided at the 85% mark to make this the origin story. Despite its excellent first 3/4's, I feel that it just doesn’t work as book on its own. That said, there are some wonderfully worded gems. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book (some quotes are meant to give you a better feel/understanding of the book itself):

Racism does not finish with brains, its a disease, a sickness, it may incubate in ignorance but it doesn’t necessarily disappear with the gaining of wisdom!

Sometimes it’s best just to walk away from your memories, just put one memory in front of the other and walk them right out of your head.

Man is the only animal who can store knowledge outside the body.

Only man wants always God should be there to condemn this one and save that one. ALways it is man who wants to make heaven and hell. God is too busy training the bees to make honey and every morning opening up all the new flowers for business.

I learned that the greatest camouflage of all is consistency. If you do something often enough and at the same time in the same way, you become invisible.

If dancing was around upon by the Lord, what would he think of a boxing match? I immediately consoled myself with the knowledge that, as far as I knew, God was a man, and therefore He’d obviously like boxing a lot better than dancing.

The concept of a white man coming along and forgiving everyone’s sins and then getting nailed to a post for his trouble to Dum and Dee seemed a highly unlikely story. As Dum pointed out, white men never forgive sins, they only punish you for them, especially if you are black. To accept the black man’s sins and agree to be responsible and even crucified for them only proved he must have been crazy.

The photograph captured the exact moment when I understood with conviction that racism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men.

In teaching me independence of thought they had given me the greatest gift an adult can give to a child, besides love, and they had given me that also.

His mind was a network of emergency plans. While small boys are not natural pessimists, he nevertheless taught me the value of a routine which, when practiced a thousand times, becomes an automatic reaction to a crisis.

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. The mind is the athlete; the body is simply the means it uses to run faster or longer, jump higher, shoot straighter, kick better, swim harder, hit further or box better. Hoppie’s dictum to me: ‘First with the head and then the heart’ was more than simply mixing brains with guts. It meant thinking well beyond the powers of normal concentration and then daring your courage to follow your thoughts.

Their mouths opened like goldfish in a bowl, but nothing came out.

In South Africa, when black skin is involved, politics and social justice have very little in common.

Read more Book Reviews by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony.

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Copyright © 1998-2022 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: or call 1-800-767-7186. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.

Last Modified: Friday, 19-Nov-2021 19:55:50 PST