The Power of One (Courtenay)

I remember vaguely when the movie version of this emerged. Even then, I was dismayed by the trite title. And, it turns out, the book does everything possible to live up to the cliches the title promises. Peekay has a traumatic first few years of life. After that, everything goes wonderfully. Everyone he meets wants to mentor him. He’s brilliant. He’s clever. He’s a competent musician and an outstanding boxer. He speaks a half dozen languages. He becomes a legend. Word of his magical powers travels on the air, and blacks everywhere worship him. He even becomes a legend as a miner, such a great guy that another man is willing to die to save him.

What a bunch of ridiculous, self-indulgent crap. Courtenay grew up in South Africa and even spent some time in the mines. Is this book just thinly veiled wishful thinking autobiography? Who knows? Who cares?

To his credit, Courtenay does have an eye for detail, particularly when it comes to the land. But the plot is paint by numbers (one of the mentors – and they all sound like they could be played by Morgan Freeman in his sleep) dies and this is the cue for our hero’s great emotional transformation (cue syrupy soundtrack), the dialogue is didactic, and the characterizations – particularly of the blacks (there are the nanny / Mammy characters and the ones who sing well) and the Jews are absurdly stereotypical. I’d call them racist and anti-Semitic if they weren’t so cartoonish.

What a tragically stupid book. It even has the requisite ridiculous ending.

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