This month Truong at Bookworm channels your inner Sporty Spice with reading recommendations from three sports enthusiasts living in Hanoi
The Power of One
A basketball player who makes us all feel height challenged whenever she enters our shop said that although her novel of choice had boxing as a sub-theme, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay has one of the most incredible, fictional protagonists she’s ever come across.
The novel is set in South Africa in the 1930s and 40s and follows an underdog’s attempts to gain recognition when dignity is usurped by the fear and coercion of apartheid-supporting bullies. It is written in four books with the second making your spirits soar, your soul weep, and choral music swell from the pages into your imagination.
Characters from the book remain as inspirational icons in your mind.
The idea of fighting for the greater good and of perseverance in the face of seeming insurmountable hardships was enlightening for her. Peekay, the young, white, male hero, reinforces the concept that the one who should be held as an example is the one who does not seek power. The novel contains scores of maxims that any person seriously concerned with ethical self-development will adopt. The most often quoted is: ‘first with the head and then with the heart, you’ll be ahead from the start’; and our basketballer’s favorite is: ‘besides love, independence is the greatest gift an adult can give a child’.
The novel was made into an underwhelming movie that made our basketballer want to throw tomatoes at the screen. She says that it completely omitted the author’s belief that: “the power of one is above all things — the power to believe in yourself, often well beyond any latent ability you may have previously demonstrated. The mind is the athlete, the body is simply the means it uses to run faster or longer, jump higher, shoot straighter, kick better, swim harder, hit further, or box better.”
ROUGH AND TUMBLE
Ostensibly our avid rugby player reader chose Thomas Hughes’ 1857 novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays because it is set in the British boarding school that gave the game its name, and because it describes the genesis of the game played today.
When Tom Brown was sent off to the school as an adolescent, he took part in the free for all that the game then was, when up to 200 players tried to get possession of a small leather ball that they’d attempt to carry to a specified area of a pitch several acres in size. To the reader it appears that everyone was intent on knocking the hell out of each other in a game that changed rules each time it was played.
Our avid rugby playing reader, an aspiring psychologist, is also interested in struggles for power that exist among any group of people. He acknowledges that in every collection of humans who must coexist at close quarters there will be some order that emerges or that is imposed — for good or for bad. Thus, apart from rugby, the aspect that first caught his eye was the tug of war between good and evil in a boarding school where the eldest students made up the rules.
In Tom’s time at the school the hierarchy changed from being ethically motivated under the Brooke brothers’ paternal influence to a place of bullying, torture and torment under Flashman (one of literature’s enduring soldiers of fortune and greed). Order is restored when Tom and his friends become school leaders.
Our reader also used the novel as a beginning point of his PhD research into the very British assertion that athletic games and the moral values they are presumed to instil are goals in their own right, and that manliness is intimately associated with athleticism.
A GRAND HORSE RACE
A cyclist enters the fray and tells us that when the view of the shiny lycra bums of his weekend cycling pack becomes too intense he likes to slow down, turn off into a quiet country road and cogitate.
His pondering upon the question we gave him resulted in Velvet Brown, the cottony haired, bucktoothed, 14-year-old daughter of a country butcher in pre-war coastal Sussex.
Our cyclist instructs us to evaporate any visions of young and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor playing Miss Brown in the tear jerking movie National Velvet, and to concentrate instrad on Enid Bagnold’s inventive fairytale that was up to its ears in rain, muck and a bit of pain, and was more about the vagaries of family relationships than of a winsome lass winning the Grand National Steeplechase on a piebald horse called Pie that she’d won in a raffle.
Our cogitator likes to imagine that his comfortably brought up little daughters will have the imagination and the courage of plain Miss Brown — to grow up and win recognition — but then have the maturity not to bask for long in its adulation. It’s a hard task in today’s selfie obsessed world.
As Velvet insisted, eschewing fame and fortune, it was Pie who won the race, not her.
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