I’ve watched the movie The Power of One so many times that I don’t know how I had never picked up the book until this summer. The book and movie tell the story of Peekay, a young boy being raised in South Africa – a lonely place for the sole British child in a world of Afrikaners and Africans. When Peekay’s mother has a nervous breakdown and is no longer able to care for him, she sends him to a boarding school where humiliation and sadness pass his time. When a gang of older students led by “the Judge,” a Nazi supporting anti-English bully, begins to torment Peekay he reverts to bed wetting and is further punished by the school’s administration. Back home during a school break, Peekay is cured by a medicine man who gives him a new resolve in dealing with his problems at school.
At the end of the school year Peekay is beckoned home to once again live with his now well mother and his grandfather. On the long train ride to the town of Barberton, Peekay is taken under the wing of the train guard, Hoppie Groenwald, a professional welterweight boxer and boxing champion of the railways. This solitary trip changes Peekay’s life, and his dream to become the welterweight champion of the world is born.
Peekay meets his first real friend (outside of his beloved Nanny, who has not come with his family to their new home in Barberton) in the unlikely companionship of Professor Karl von Vollesteen, a German professor of music and lover of cacti. When the Professor is imprisoned for being an unregistered foreigner, Peekay becomes a regular at the prison where he finally learns to box.
Peekay and the professor, with the help of the local Barberton librarian and her many influences around town, begin to improve the lives of the mostly African inmates of the prison, writing letters to their families, smuggling in tobacco, and raising the hope of the tribes. These changes are mostly attributed to Peekay, and he becomes known by the Africans as the Tadpole Angel, creating a legend of hope and inspiration that follows Peekay throughout his life.
This is such an excellent book (and movie.) It’s a long one, but worth the time invested.