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The Power Of One : Popular Penguins : Popular Penguins - Bryce Courtenay

The Power Of One : Popular Penguins

Popular Penguins

Paperback Published: 28th June 2010
ISBN: 9780143204794
Number Of Pages: 640

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First with your head and then with your heart . . .

To Peekay, a seven-year-old boy who dreams of being the welterweight champion of the world, this is a piece of advice that he will carry with him throughout his life.

Born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred, this one small boy will come to lead all the tribes of Africa. And in a final conflict with his childhood enemy, the Judge, Peekay will fight to the death for justice.

Bryce Courtenay's classic bestseller is a story of the triumph of the human spirit – a spellbinding tale for all ages.

About the Author

Bryce Courtenay is the bestselling author of The Power of One, Tandia, April Fool's Day, The Potato Factory, Tommo & Hawk, Solomon's Song, Jessica, A Recipe for Dreaming, The Family Frying Pan, The Night Country, Smoky Joe's Cafe, Four Fires, Matthew Flinders' Cat, Brother Fish, Whitethorn, Sylvia, The Persimmon Tree, Fishing for Stars and The Story of Danny Dunn.

The Power of One is also available in an edition for younger readers, and Jessica has been made into an award-winning television miniseries.

This is what happened.

Before my life started properly, I was doing the usual mewling and sucking, which in my case occurred on a pair of huge, soft black breasts. In the African tradition I continued to suckle for my first two and a half years after which my Zulu wet nurse became my nanny. She was a person made for laughter, warmth and softness and she would clasp me to her breasts and stroke my golden curls with a hand so large it seemed to contain my whole head. My hurts were soothed with a song about a brave young warrior hunting a lion and a women's song about doing the washing down on the big rock beside the river where, at sunset, the baboons would come out of the hills to drink.

My life proper started at the age of five when my mother had her nervous breakdown. I was torn from my lovely black nanny with her big white smile and sent to boarding school.

Then began a time of yellow wedges of pumpkin, burnt black and bitter at the edges; mashed potato with glassy lumps; meat aproned with gristle in grey gravy; diced carrots, warm, wet, flatulent cabbage; beds that wet themselves in the morning; and an entirely new sensation called loneliness.

I was the youngest child in the school by two years, and I spoke only English, the infected tongue that had spread like a plague into the sacred land and contaminated the pure, sweet waters of Afrikanerdom.

The Boer War had created a great malevolence for the English, for the Rooineks. It was a hate that had entered their bloodstream and pocked the hearts and minds of the next generation. To their barefoot sons, I was the first live example of the congenital hate they carried for my kind.

I spoke the language which had pronounced the sentences that had killed their grandfathers and sent their grandmothers to the world's first concentration camps, where they died like flies from dysentery, malaria and black water fever. To the bitter Calvanist farmers, the sins of the fathers had been visited upon the sons, unto the third generation. I was infected.

I had had no previous warning that I was wicked and it came as a fearful surprise. I was blubbing to myself in the little kids' dormitory when suddenly I was dragged from under my horrid camphor-smelling blanket by two eleven-year-olds and taken to the seniors' dormitory, to stand trial before the council of war.

My trial, of course, was a travesty of justice. But then what could I expect? I had been caught deep behind enemy lines and everyone, even a five-year-old, knows this means the death sentence. I stood gibbering, unable to understand the language of the stentorian twelve-year-old judge, or the reason for the hilarity when sentence was passed. But I guessed the worst.

I wasn't quite sure what death was. I knew it was something that happened on the farm in the slaughter house to pigs and goats and an occasional heifer. The squeal from the pigs was so awful that I knew it wasn't much of an experience, even for pigs.

And I knew something else for sure; death wasn't as good as life. Now death was about to happen to me before I could really get the hang of life. Trying hard to hold back my tears, I was dragged off.

It must have been a full moon that night because the shower room was bathed in blue light. The stark granite walls of the shower recesses stood sharply angled against the wet cement floor. I had never been in a shower room before and this place resembled the slaughter house on the farm. It even smelt the same, of urine and blue carbolic soap, so I guessed this was where my death would take place.

My eyes were a bit swollen from crying but I could see where the meat hooks were supposed to hang. Each granite slab had a pipe protruding from the wall behind it with a knob on the end. They would suspend me from one of these and I would be dead, just like the pigs.

I was told to remove my pyjamas and to kneel inside the shower recess facing the wall. I looked directly down into the hole in the floor where all the blood would drain away.

I closed my eyes and said a silent, sobbing prayer. My prayer wasn't to God, but to my nanny. It seemed the more urgent thing to do. When she couldn't solve a problem for me she'd say, 'We must ask Inkosi-Inkosikazi, the great medicine man, he will know what to do.' Although we never actually called on the services of the great man it didn't seem to matter, it was comforting to know he was available when needed.

But it was too late to get a message through to Nanny, much less have her pass it on. I felt a sudden splash on my neck and then warm blood trickled over my trembling naked body across the cold cement floor and into the drain. Funny, I didn't feel dead. But there you go. Who knows what dead feels like?

When the judge and his council of war had all pissed on me, they left. After a while it got very quiet, just a drip, drip, drip from someplace overhead and a sniff from me that sounded as though it came from somewhere else.

As I had never seen a shower I didn't know how to turn one on and so had no way of washing myself. I had always been bathed by my nanny in a tin tub in front of the kitchen stove. I'd stand up and she'd soap me all over and Dee and Dum, the two kitchen maids who were twins, would giggle behind their hands when she soaped my little acorn. Sometimes it would just stand right up on its own and everyone would have an extra good giggle. That's how I knew it was special. Just how special I was soon to find out. I tried to dry myself with my pyjamas, which were wet in patches from lying on the floor, and then I put them back on. I didn't both to do up the buttons because my hands were shaking a lot. I wandered around that big dark place until I found the small kids' dormitory. There I crept under my blanket and came to the end of my first day in life.

I am unable to report that the second day of my life was much better than the first. Things started to go wrong from the moment I awoke. Kids surrounded my bed holding their noses and making loud groaning sounds. Let me tell you something, there was plenty to groan about. I smelt worse than a kaffir toilet, worse than the pigs as home. Worse even than both put together.

The kids scattered as a very large person with a smudge of dark hair above her lip entered. It was the same lady who had left me in the dormitory the previous evening. 'Good morning, Mevrou!' the kids chorused, each standing stiffly to attention at the foot of his bed.

The large person called Mevrou glared at me, 'Kom,' she said in a fierce voice. Grabbing me by the ear she twisted me out of the stinking bed and led me back to the slaughter house. With her free hand she removed my unbuttoned pyjama jacket and pulled my pants down to my ankles. 'Step,' she barked.

I thought desperately, she's even bigger than Nanny. If she pisses on me I will surely drown. I stepped out of my pyjama pants, and releasing my ear she pushed me into the shower recess. There was a sudden hissing sound and needles of icy water drilled into me.

If you've never had a shower or even an unexpected icy-cold drenching, it's not too hard to believe that maybe this is death. I had my eyes tightly shut but the hail of water was remorseless, a thousand pricks at a time drilling into my skin. How could so much piss possibly come out of one person?

Death was cold as ice. Hell was supposed to be fire and brimstone and here I was freezing to death. It was very frightening, but like so much lately, quite the opposite to what I had been led to expect.

'When you go to boarding school you'll sleep in a big room with lots of little friends so you won't be afraid of the dark anymore.' How exciting it had all sounded.

The fierce hissing noise and the deluge of icy piss stopped suddenly. I opened my eyes to find no Mevrou. Instead, the judge stood before me, his pyjama sleeve rolled up, his arm wet where he'd reached in to turn off the shower. Behind him stood the jury and all the smaller kids from my dormitory.

As the water cleared from my eyes I tried to smile gratefully. The Judge's wet arm shot out; grabbing me by the wrist he jerked my out of the granite recess. The jury formed a ring around me as I stood frightened, my hands cupped over my scrotum. My teeth chattering out of control, a weird, glassy syncopation inside my head. The judge reached out again, and taking both my wrists in one large hand he pulled my hands away and pointed to my tiny acorn. 'Why you piss your bed, Rooinek?' he asked.

'Hey, look there is no hat on his snake!' someone yelled. They all crowded closer, delighted at this monstrous find. 'Pisskop! Pisskop!' one of the smaller kids shouted and in a moment all the small kids were chanting it.

'You hear, you a pisshead,' the judge translated. 'Who cut the hat off your snake, Pisskop?'

I looked down to where he was pointing, my teeth changing into a quieter timpani. All looked perfectly normal to me, although the tip was a bright blue colour and has almost disappeared into its neat round collar of skin. I looked up at the judge, confused.

The judge dropped my arms and using both his hands parted his pyjama fly. His 'snake', monstrously large, hung level with my eyes and seemed to be made of a continuous sheath brought down to a point of ragged skin. A few stray hairs grew at its base and, I must say, it wasn't much of a sight.

More serious trouble lay ahead of me for sure. I was a Rooinek and a pisskop. I spoke the wrong language. And now I was obviously made differently. But I was still alive, and in my book: where there's life, there's hope.

ISBN: 9780143204794
ISBN-10: 0143204793
Series: Popular Penguins
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 640
Published: 28th June 2010
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 18.0 x 11.3  x 4.5
Weight (kg): 0.36
Edition Number: 1

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Bryce Courtenay

About the Author

Bryce: in his own words...

I was born illegitimately in 1933 in South Africa and spent my early childhood years in a small town deep in the heart of the Lebombo mountains.

It was a somewhat isolated community and I grew up among farm folk and the African people. At the age of five I was sent to a boarding school which might be better described as a combination orphanage and reform school, where I learned to box - though less as a sport and more as a means to stay alive.

But I survived to return to a small mountain town named Barberton in the North Eastern part of the country.

Here I met Doc, a drunken German music teacher who spent the next few years filling my young mind with the wonders of nature as we roamed the high mountains. His was the best education I was ever to receive, despite the scholarship I won to a prestigious boy's school and thereafter to a university in England where I studied Journalism.

I came to Australia because I was banned from returning to my own country.

This was due to the fact that I had started a weekend school for Africans in the school hall of the prestigious boy's school I attended.

One day the school hall was raided by the police who then branded me a Communist as they considered educating Africans a subversive act.

While studying journalism, I met a wonderful Australian girl.

"Come to my country!" Benita invited.

I did, and soon after arriving in Australia, married her. Benita gave me three splendid sons, Brett, Adam and Damon. Brett, who married Ann has given me three lovely grandsons, Ben now 14, Jake is about to turn 12 and Marcus is almost 6 years old.

I have lived all my Australian life in Sydney (the nicest place on earth) and, until I started writing fiction, made my career in advertising working as a copywriter and creative director.

At the age of 55 I decided to take the plunge. I had been telling stories since the age of five and had always known I would be a writer some day, though life kept getting in the way until I realised that it was either now or never.

Bryce Courtenay died at his home in Canberra, Australia. He was 79. Courtenay is survived by his second wife Christine Gee and his children Adam and Brett.

Visit Bryce Courtenay's Booktopia Author Page

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