This is an superb coming-of-age story, set in South Africa from the late 1930s through the mid '50s. Our protagonist's real name remains unknown to thThis is an superb coming-of-age story, set in South Africa from the late 1930s through the mid '50s. Our protagonist's real name remains unknown to the reader, but as a seven-year old adopts the name of Peekay (short for PK, which stands for "pisskop" or one who wets the bed). It begins as a brand of shame while he is at a boarding school, but becomes the only name he uses. Peekay is bullied at school because he is small and is a rare "rooniek" (born of an English family) in a school dominated by Boers. Side note: If you are as unfamiliar with South African history as I was, it would be worthwhile to read up on the Anglo-Boer Wars and Apartheid, both on wikipedia. At this point in the story, Peekay is nothing but miserable.
Eventually, Peekay is friended by a welterweight boxer, the first adult friend in his life, and becomes inspired and driven to live out his dream, to one day become welterweight boxing champion of the world. His journey there brings him across the path of a lovable German music professor/amateur geologist, a Zulu prison boxing coach, a Jewish boy who becomes his best friend, and a slew of other characters. Bryce Courtenay writes with great skill. The prose is fluid, without getting in its own way. The characters are well-developed. The journey that Peekay takes from 7 to almost 20 is authentic. The cast is full of people who stick with you. This is not exactly a "boxing book", but there are quite a bit of scenes with training and fights. The detail is riveting. This alone would make the book wonderful, but the author brilliantly takes the history of the era and weaves it into an unforgettable story.
I was inspired by Peekay's determination to reach his dream, and his willingness to sacrifice to make it happen. He never takes for granted that he will get there simply because he wants it. He is a student of the sport, and willing to take instruction from experts and avoid the preconceptions that doom people from meeting their ultimate goals. Peekay enjoys success, but whether he reaches the top of his dream or not gradually becomes less relevant as his eyes are opened to his country and their struggles. I will add that this book has a happy ending, a poetic ending...but also a thinking person's ending and one that leaves you to wonder. In other words, it's not a hollywood ending. There are a lot of German and South African terms throughout that the author defines in a glossary found in the index. Simply first-rate fiction!...more
This is one of the most amazing works of fiction that I've ever laid my eyes on, a stunning intellectual exercise as well as an incredible versatile bThis is one of the most amazing works of fiction that I've ever laid my eyes on, a stunning intellectual exercise as well as an incredible versatile boxed set of literary ideas. There are six stories: a journal from a man travelling on a Pacific ship (in the style of Herman Melville) around 1850, letters describing an up-and-coming composer in 1931 Belgium, a murder mystery in 1975 San Francisco, a psychological thriller in early 21st century England where a man is confined to a nursing home against his will, a sci-fi story about a clone in futuristic dystopian Korea and finally a story set in a post-apocalyptic, primitive Hawaii.
This seemingly random collection of stories is ingeniously meshed by the fact that each successive story has a character find a reference to the first, by either finding the journal, finding the letters, seeing a movie version, etc. The other brilliant attribute of this book is the structure. Each of the first five stories stops abruptly in the middle. The first story stops in mid-sentence, and gives the reader an overall idea of each story before the sixth story is told in its entirety. Then, David Mitchell amazes by going backwards, starting with the fifth story and concluding each one, providing revelations and stunning the reader with twist after twist until the first (and final) story is complete. The most apt description of this novel is that it is a literary version of a set of Russian nesting dolls.
An incredible reading experience that I plan to live again soon!...more
Sometimes, a good audiobook narrator can turn a good book into a great one. I read this several years ago in paperback form, read it in about 2 days,Sometimes, a good audiobook narrator can turn a good book into a great one. I read this several years ago in paperback form, read it in about 2 days, and remembered liking it, being fascinated at times, but definitely didn't feel anything I'd describe as amazed or impressed. Scott Brick's wonderful narration changed my opinion on the 2nd attempt, opening my mind up to what is really a suspense classic. The atmosphere in this book clearly shows the type of mastery that would've attracted Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Add to it the riveting mystery, and this is really a good supernatural thriller!...more