Courtenay’s novel is in South Africa during the 1930s and 1940s, and tells the story of a boy who, overtime, acquires the nickname of Peekay. Adult Peekay narrates his story, looking back on his life. It was adapted into a film in 1992, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through the film. The book, however, I’ve read numerous times.
Peekay’s story begins when his mother has a nervous breakdown, and he is then raised by a Zulu wet nurse. She eventually becomes his nanny. He is sent to boarding school while still a young child, and suffers abuse at the hands of the older students. Some because of his age, some because of race. There are Nazi sympathizers at the school, which Peekay must learn to deal with to survive (especially emotionally) schooling.
He deals with much humiliation, loneliness, and abandonment in childhood, yet finds the determination and drive to survive, and dreams of what his life could be. He begins to be able to realize his dreams when he meets a boxing champion on a train ride. Peekay is inspired to be the welterweight champion of the world.
Knowledge about history during the time the book takes place will help you make more sense out of a lot of the background events in Peekay’s story. (Especially the Boer War and WWII in South Africa.)
Here is a helpful Reader’s Guide in case you’re not as familiar with the events as you’d like to be, or if you need a quick brush up: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/32534/the-power-of-one-by-bryce-courtenay/9780345410054/readers-guide/