The Book That Won Hearts: Celebrating The 30 Year Anniversary of The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

The Book That Won Hearts: Celebrating The 30 Year Anniversary of The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

First with your head and then with your heart…’

So says Hoppie Groenewald, boxing champion, to a seven-year-old boy who dreams of being the welterweight champion of the world. For the young Peekay, it’s a piece of advice he will carry with him throughout his life.

Better Reading’s Top 100 list is a bit like the tide – books come and go. But every year there’s a few titles you nearly always see on the list and one of them is The Power of One, the blockbuster novel by the late Australian/South African author Bryce Courtenay.

First published in 1989, The Power of One is set in South Africa during the 1930s and 1940s. A coming-of-age story of a young Anglo-African boy called Peekay, it took Australian publishing by storm, going on to sell over 8 million copies and be translated into 18 languages.

Bryce Courtenay was born in South Africa and emigrated to Australia in 1958. Growing up, he experienced many of the things his character Peekay did. Despite him stating that the book is a novel, not a memoir, many people see it as loosely based on Courtenay’s own life.

I’ve experienced a number of incarnations of The Power of One. I read it when it was first published, learning about apartheid and life in South Africa at that time. The book took on greater meaning many years later when my older son studied the text for school. This very South African story had become a part of the Australian curriculum. He read the book, and then as a family, with his younger brothers, we all watched the 1992 film.

I realised that night the power of this story for boys. Four boys were mesmerised by Peekay’s journey. The aspects of the story that I skimmed over were what drew them in, such as Peekay’s boxing career. They connected to the underdog. The battler. His struggles and his empowering and rather spectacular rise. In many ways, it is an Australian story, as Australians have always loved hearing tales about battlers.

At the end of chapter sixteen, Peekay himself says: ‘As is so often the case with a legend, every incident has two possible interpretations, the plausible and the one that is molded to suit the making of the myth.’

In many ways, my sons shed a new light for me on Courtenay’s story and the making of a myth. The New York Times called The Power of One ‘the ultimate international bestseller.’ In our house, The Power of One is a very well-loved book (and film).

I suspect that’s the case in many homes, as year after year it’s voted onto our Top 100.

Even now, on the 30-year anniversary of its first publication, The Power of One continues to enthral and fascinate, it’s message and potency undimmed by the passing of time.

Courtenay himself however, was never interested in longevity and once postulated that one day his writing would disappear like ‘footsteps on a beach.’

How wrong he was.

I asked Better Reading’s Cheryl Akle if she’d met him, and she mentioned she had about five or six times and that, ‘He was one of the first authors to understand the connection with the readers.’

That connection continues today.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with this book. Have you voted it onto the Top 100, and if so, why? 

– Jane Tara is a blissed out bookworm, Better Reading writer, and author.

Buy a copy of The Power of One here.

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                      Publisher details

                      The Power of One
                      Author
                      Bryce Courtenay
                      Publisher
                      Penguin
                      Genre
                      Fiction
                      Released
                      01 February, 1989

                      Synopsis

                      First with your head and then with your heart...To Peekay, a seven-year-old boy who dreams of being the welterweight champion of the world, this is a piece of advice that he will carry with him throughout his life.Born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred, this one small boy will come to lead all the tribes of Africa. And in a final conflict with his childhood enemy, the Judge, Peekay will fight to the death for justice.Bryce Courtenay's classic bestseller is a story of the triumph of the human spirit – a spellbinding tale for all ages.#11 in Australia's Top 100 Favourite Homegrown Reads#36 in ABC My Favourite Book #19 in Australia's Top 100 2016
                      Bryce Courtenay
                      About the author

                      Bryce Courtenay

                      Bryce Courtenay is the bestselling author of The Power of One, Tandia, April Fool's Day, The Potato Factory, Tommo & Hawk, Solomon's Song, Jessica, A Recipe for Dreaming, The Family Frying Pan, The Night Country, Smoky Joe's Cafe, Four Fires, Matthew Flinders' Cat, Brother Fish, Whitethorn, Sylvia, The Persimmon Tree, Fishing for Stars, The Story of Danny DunnFortune Cookie and Jack of Diamonds. The Power of One is also available in an edition for younger readers, and Jessica has been made into an award-winning television miniseries.The Silver Moon: Reflections and Stories on Life, Death and Writing is being published in November 2014

                      Books by Bryce Courtenay

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                      1. Suzanne Robinson says:

                        Thank you so much for posting on this important milestone! I listened to this via audio, and have now just gotten my 14 year old son to do the same on his long train commute to the city for school. I hope he loves it as much as I did. It contains an introduction by the author; it was such a thrill to hear his voice and to be told of how this important book came to fruition. This should be a ‘must read’ for all readers! I have a poster of your Top 100 books sitting proudly at my desk. If you have not been lucky to read this powerful story, do yourself a favour and change that at once!

                      2. Lucy Bloom says:

                        I think you should interview Courtenay’s son about this book. Adam Courtenay lives in Sydney and will shed light on writing on this book.

                      3. Colleen says:

                        Such a beautiful story to read. Full of the goodness of the human heart & the strength of spirit seen so rarely. Time to pass it to my young grandsons to enjoy