Monday, September 05, 2011

Independence of Thought

The Power of One
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

"First with the head, then with the heart." 

I found this novel to be a spellbinding bildungsroman. Set in South Africa during the 1930s and 1940s, it tells the story of young boy who, through the course of the story, acquires the nickname of Peekay, becomes a champion boxer and learns how to compete in the world of life. Courtenay's style reminded me of Dickens and as such he is a grand storyteller. His characterization and use of details are outstanding and bring both the country of South Africa and individual people alive. Some of the most memorable individuals are Peekay's mentors. Starting with his brief train ride from the horrific grammar school that he survives through stoic determination to his acclimation to the small town of Barberton and the German doctor who becomes his mentor there.  It is Doc who tells Peekay:
"Intelligence is a harder gift. For this you must work, you must practice it, challenge it, and maybe toward the end of your life you will master it. Cleverness is the shadow, whereas intelligence is the substance." 
The author is able to draw the reader into the story, again much like Dickens, and the result of that is to find yourself unable to set the book aside. There are many lessons that Peekay learns as part of his education.  Among them is the importance of ideas and being true to one's self.
"Always in life an idea starts small, it is only a sapling idea, but the vines will come and they will try to choke your idea so it cannot grow and it will die and you will never know you had a big idea, an idea so big it could have grown thirty meters through the dark canopy of leaves and touched the face of the sky.' He looked at me and continued. 'The vines are people who are afraid of originality, of new thinking. Most people you encounter will be vines; when you are a young plant they are very dangerous.' His piercing blue eyes looked into mine.' Always listen to yourself, Peekay. It is better to be wrong than simply to follow convention. If you are wrong, no matter, you have learned something and you grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step toward a fulfilling life." 
The Power of One is one of the most inspirational and enlightening books I have read.
What is the Power of One?
"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." 

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