Author: Bryce Courteney
Read: January 2008
Rated: 4 out of 5
Bryce Courteney writes an entertaining novel. he is a good storyteller (Gary's note: In looking at some of the recently published books, such as, The Kite Runner, Power of One, and a few others, I am thinking that the current crop of writers do a very good job of telling stories, getting to the heart of the matter. But they are not as good as some of the previous generations at using the words to bring in the memorable thoughts and phrases.) His writing is enjoyable and disturbing. A boy, a lonely boy grows up with the cream of being the welterweight champion of the world--we do not know if he does or not.
The boy, who we eventually know as PeeKay--but apparently does not have a formal name, nor even a father, is put into a South African boarding school around 1939. As a small 5 year old, English kid in an Afrikeen school, he is in for hard times. Over the year he is then bullied; he meets the Judge-a 12 year old bully and the jury--his followers. The Judge makes his life a hell. Regularly beating him up. Life with adults at the school is only better in that it is usually verbal abuse.
After his first term, he is visited by an African medicine man that cures him of bed wetting. But even more important, gives him the key to understanding himself through a form of visualization. After his second term, he is sent back to his grandfathers via train. The 36 hours he spends on the train changes his life. He mets a boxer, which even though he is small, manages to put away bigger opponents. From him, PeeKay is able to understand the power of focusing, the power of being undivided in his mission, the power of one.
The rest of the book is an exposition on this theme. Peekay goes through a series of obstacles and overcomes. He wants to be on the prison boxing team, through his determination he wins both the right to be on the team, but also the hearts and minds of the guards and other boys on the team (PeeKay is not a prisoner). PeeKay becomes an accomplished boxer. Through the association of the town librarian and a German professor of music, he develops a razor sharp mind. He is accepted into the South African equivalent of a first rate private high school. He and another friend turn a defeated team into champs.
The end of the book takes PeeKay to having a year off to earn enough money to go to Oxford, on his terms. He gets a job in the mines, a very dangerous job and survives until the last couple of days when he gets into a near death accident. After he recuperates, he meets the Judge. PeeKay out fights a much bigger Judge, and obliterates the Nazi Swastika, a symbol of hate in PeeKay's life.
As some of have noted, there should have been a language warning. But besides that, I was thinking it rated about 4 out of 5. See my beginning note. When looking at this book as a story rather than a work of literature, it has resonance with me. It struck me as probably not too plausible. But it was pretty griping. The boxing theme has a strong tie in to winning in life. While PeeKay had set backs earlier in life, Courtenay does not make it sound like there were too many disappointments later--you wonder how PeeKay would have done losing a few of the boxing matches?
The theme of self-determination making you successful is an interesting theme--one which you root for the protagonist, hiss at the villain. But one thing which PeeKay had was a lot of help. Where would he have been without Hoppie? Or the Doc? Or Miss Bornstein? Or Mrs. Boxall? Or even Rasputin? If anything, the theme is that it takes a lot of people to make someone successful. Yes the successful person needs to be focused, and should we say talented, but Courteney's portrayal is not the Atlas Shrugged image of a superman.
I was also curious on Courteney's portrayal of religious characters. Christian characters definitely do not get good representation. But the witch doctor is an undercurrent theme throughout the book. Yet the African crowds which follow PeeKay seem more of a superstition rather than something you could latch onto. Doc's view, while not anti Christian is more that it is not needed. Such as on pg 310--"the Bible to be good for matters of the heart, but hopeless for those of the head." PeeKay thinks the Marie is ok until she gets religion.
- I have found in life that everything, no matter how bad, comes to an end. (45)
- I was still alive, and in my book, where there's life, there's hope. (67)
- Sometimes, very occasionally, you do your best boxing with your mouth. (89)
- Small can beat big if you have a plan. (100)
- It is better to be wrong than simply follow convention. If you are wrong, you have learned something and you will grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step toward a fulfilling life. (157)
- A man is only free when he is free in his heart (196)
- When a man knows somebody cares, he keeps some small place, a corner maybe of his soul, clean and lit. (228)
- facism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men. (268
- Mystery, not logic, is what gives us hope and keeps us believing in a force greater than our own insignificance. (348)
- Winning is a state of mind that embraces everything you do. (357)