Ideals must be back, for Courtenay's first novel is a fast-paced book with an old-fashioned, clean-cut hero, easily identifiable villains, no sex, and saintlike sidekicks. All done in sturdy, workmanlike prose. Set in South Africa in the 1940's, the novel resembles those enormously popular books on southern Africa written by John Buchan and H. Rider Haggard. Courtenay's Peekay, like those earlier heroes, inspires devotion from a disparate band of followers, which includes a witch doctor, a German professor, a barmaid, Gert the Afrikaans policeman, Morrie the Jewish refugee, and his Oxbridge headmaster. Courtenay lovingly evokes an African landscape of small town and bush as he describes the journey of Peekay—from a horrendously cruel boarding school to a triumphant vindication as a young man in the copper mines of what is now Zambia. At his first school, Peekay, as the only English child in an otherwise Afrikaans school, is held accountable for all the wrongs inflicted by the British. But a fortuitous meeting with an amateur boxer, "Kid Louis" Groenewald, supplies the young Peekay with the means and the drive to fight back. Peekay learns to box (boxing fans will particularly appreciate the vividly described fights) and thereafter is forever serving justice and earning Brownie points. His first teachers are the tough Afrikaner jailers of his hometown prison and a black prisoner. Later, at a prep school in Johannesburg, while the victorious Afrikaner Nationalists introduce apartheid, he is taught by the best trainer in Africa. As well as being a scholar and everybody's favorite young man, Peekay also earns a reputation among the blacks as a great chief—"The Tadpole Angel"—who is destined to save them, but not in this book. Peekay is just too noble, and his political views, perhaps reflecting those of his times, are paternal to say the least. But, nevertheless, this is a somewhat endearing, if uncritical, celebration of virtue and positive thinking. Despite the lack of shading and the chipper philosophy, then, a surprisingly refreshing debut.
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