I am told that The Power of One is the largest selling book within Australia by any living author. It remains published in eleven languages and has sold well over four million copies worldwide. It was my first book and is roughly the story of my early life in Africa. I had set out to write it as a practice book, never for one moment thinking it would be published. In lieu of a plot I simply told the story of my life up to the age of sixteen. To my astonishment the Americans paid me an advance of half million dollars and eleven years later it is still selling well. The movie The Power of One is still available on video, though I'd much prefer you to read my book first before seeing it on the 'box'.
Bryce gives an overview of the book:
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 Calvinist 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.
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. I wrote my first book, The Power of One, when I was 55.
I grew up among farm folk and the African people. At the age of...