Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Power of One.........

I read this book for the first time as a freshman in college. It was "African Week" on campus and the campus bookstore had pulled what it believed to be the fundamental African and African-American books of the century. They had them displayed in the Union--a good twenty of them or so, opened wide and waiting for an owner, or at least someone to peruse them in their spare time. I remember thinking it was quite odd that the display was right next to the potato chips and other deli offerings and so I picked up "Power of One" more or less because I felt sorry for it--nestled between a can of Pringles and plastic forks, it seemed out of place and I was determined to free the book from its miserable consumer-based imprisonment.
I bought the book for twenty dollars and took it home with me; intending if nothing else to read the first few pages and thus pay my homage to "African Week" out of some sense of collegial duty. I got home, plopped my book bag on the floor, and jumped up on my bed to read the first few chapters before hiding myself in the library for the rest of the evening with my psychology homework, and before I knew it the clock read 1 a.m. and I was three quarters through the book with none of my intended psychology homework completed. Oops.
To this day, picking up that book holds a special memory for me, as the Power of One quite literally changed my life.
Written by Bruce Courtenay, The Power of One takes place in South Africa in 1939--just as Hitler's cruel shadow was overtaking the world. The seeds of Apartheid were budding in South Africa....and there, a boy named Peekay is born. His childhood reeks of loneliness and pain and yet he somehow decides that he is going to become a great man--the welterweight champion of the world, in fact, and he would dream heroic dreams. As Peekay navigates school, the world at large, and the realm of boxing, we find ourselves cheering on a young man whose literally facing all the odds. It's a profound story of survival and redemption that once it grabs hold, will not let go.
One of my favorite quotes:
"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."
Well written, Mr. Courtenay. Now...another round, please.

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