The Power of One: A Novel

By Bryce Courtenay
Publisher:Ballantine Books, (9/29/1996)

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In this magical novel, an irresistible boy tells the story of his survival and coming of age against the background of South Africa during and just after World War II.
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"The Power of One: A Novel"
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Average Rating:

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 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

1. How does it affect your reading of the novel to know that much of it is at least semi-autobiographical, based on the author’s experiences growing up in South Africa? Do you think it’s important to know exactly what, in a book like this, is real and what is fictional? Why?

2. What is “the power of one”? How does it affect Peekay’s life and the lives of those around him? Is there a mystical or religious component to it, something beyond human causation, or is it something that anyone can learn to develop?

3. Is there any significance to the idea of “the power of one” in this novel beyond the individual? Is Courtenay suggesting that South Africa itself must, like Peekay, develop this power in order to survive?

4. Both boxing and music are important to Peekay and to The Power of One. At times, Bryce Courtenay contrasts them, while at other times he stresses their commonalities, and even describes one in terms of the other–as, for example, when Peekay boxes “like a Mozart concerto” (pg. 249). Identify more of these contrasts and commonalities. Why do you think the author emphasizes them so much?

5. Do you rely upon something like the power of one in your own life? What is it, and how did you develop it? How is it similar to or different from Peekay’s power of one?

6. Why does Granpa Chook become such an important figure to Peekay?

7. Which group has the greater influence on Peekay: people like Nanny, Inkosi-Inkosikazi, Hoppie Groenewald, Doc, and Geel Piet, or those like his mother, Mevrou, the Judge, and Sergeant Borman?

8. After Peekay learns his nanny has been sent back to Zululand, he climbs up the hill overlooking his house and, as he puts it, “I grew up. Just like that” (pg. 142). Why does this news about Nanny make Peekay grow up?

9. Among other things, The Power of One is a fierce condemnation of racism. Yet despite this, were there parts of the novel that struck you as racist? And if so, why? Does the book rise above these instances, or does it sabotage its own message?

10. Compare the racism of South Africa pre-apartheid and during apartheid as presented in The Power of One, with racism in the United States prior to and during the Civil Rights era. Has South Africa or the United States made more progress in eliminating racism?

11. Why does Peekay, the “Tadpole Angel,” become a symbol of hope for the black Africans? Does Peekay come to accept the hopes and dreams and expectations that the Africans place on him? What actions does he take to fulfill this role?

12. Is it an accident of composition that The Power of One is divided into three parts, or “books,” or did the author purposefully structure the novel this way? If the latter, what was his purpose? Is there a particular significance to the number three in the novel?

13. Why does the Judge have it in for Peekay? Have you encountered people like the Judge in your life? What’s the best way to deal with them? Does Peekay make the right choice? What else could he have done?

14. Why does Hoppie Groenewald’s mantra, “First with the head, then with the heart” (pg. 103) inspire young Peekay with such courage and hope?

15. At one point in the novel, Peekay refers to himself as a “spiritual terrorist” (pg. 360). What do you think he means by this term? Is it more difficult in the post-9/11 world to see this term as positive?

16. At the end of the novel, Peekay uses all his boxing skills to defeat a grown-up Judge. Is this last fight truly a victory? Why or why not?

17. Is religion, not just Christianity but also the indigenous African religion, portrayed favorably or unfavorably in The Power of One? Is there any one character whose opinions about religion you think most resemble those of the author? Why? Do you agree with these opinions?

18. Why do you think the author never tells us the names of Peekay’s mother or grandfather? For that matter, why don’t we ever learn Peekay’s real name?

19. In Book Two, the character of Morrie Levy is introduced, a Jewish boy who quickly becomes Peekay’s best friend and business partner. Does Courtenay make this character Jewish for thematic reasons? Does Morrie seem like a stereotypical Jewish character, or does he transcend stereotypes?

20. What do you think lies ahead for Peekay? Does he become the welterweight champion of the world? Do you think, following his last fight with the Judge, that this goal is still an important one for him?

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