Michael Power (1933 - ) was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1933 and educated at St Aidan's, Grahamstown. He did a BA at the University of Natal majoring in English and Roman Law. He then went to Oriel College, Oxford, where he obtained an honours degree in jurisprudence.
When Power returned to South Africa instead of joining his father's legal practice he joined Anglo-American, working for six years in their public relations department. This included two years in Salisbury (Harare) in the then Rhodesia. It was there he wrote his first novel Holiday (Cassell, 1962). His second novel A Gathering of Golden Angels was published by Cassell in 1963.
A third novel, Shadow Game, the first book to deal with male homosexual love across the colour line in apartheid South Africa, was published in 1972 under a pseudonym, Laurence Eben. Times change and it has now been republished under the author's real name as a Penguin Modern Classic.
Power later ran a public relations and publishing firm in Johannesburg. He now lives in Pietermaritzburg.
In Holiday the sixteen year old Jeremy, a self-aware adolescent joins his family for their annual holiday on the Natal north coast. His mother abandoned him and his canny five year old sister and their father is now dead. They live with their maternal grandmother, her second daughter and only son. When the uncle arrives he brings in train a gay lover from his past intent on reviving past romance. Meanwhile Jeremy is trying to achieve some kind of romantic resolution with his girlfriend Glory, who is staying at a nearby cottage and adult traumas play themselves out against the backdrop of young love.
What the press said:
"Holiday is a candid first novel by a young South African which depicts the confusion and pain felt by a 16-year-old youth catapulted towards maturity during a month-long vacation on the north coast of Natal.
"Mr Power writes boldly, often beautifully, and the novel has its fair share of sex, frustration, eccentricity, religion and politics. It also deals with homosexuality and ends in violent death." -- The Star, 31 July 1962
"Mr Power is a writer of tremendous zest and vitality ... Jeremy is a wonderfully realised character. His perplexity, compassion, independence and self-conscious are all laid bare with a rare understanding of a young person's mind. But equally well done in their more minor roles are all the other figures in the tale, and the treatment of several of these are quite maliciously witty." - Pretoria News, 15 November 1962.
"(Holiday) is an extraordinary sensitive work, revealing an intelligent understanding of the subject matter and a feel for words that lifts it above the ordinary. Mr Power is especially strong on dialogue which he uses easily and naturally, backing it up with fine descriptive writing rather than the other way around." - Rand Daily Mail, 14 September 1962
Spicy novel shocks Natal's upper set - but they rush to buy it
by Margaret Smith
A startling first novel by a 29-year-old South African, Michael Power, has caused a stir in the wealthy Natal social circle it describes. Many people have been shocked by the young author's approach to human conflicts.
Despite their disapproval they have rushed to buy the book.
In ten days most Durban bookshops have sold out their stocks and have placed large repeat orders.
The novel is called "Holiday". It concerns the conflicts that arise when a wealthy South African family take a cottage on an isolated North Coast beach for their holiday. It is decribed through the eyes of the 16-year-old son of the family.
This is what Reynolds News, a British Sunday newspaper, said in its review of the book.
"The hero Jeremy, is a sex-obsessed teenager. His whole holiday seems to be dedicated to seducing his teenage girl friend, Glory. There is an uncle, his unpleasant boy-friend, a soured invalid school teaching lady and a religious-drunk grandmother. I wasn't surprised when it all ended in murder.
"Power writes well. His rich South Africans with their tedious small talk, sunbasking and good living, their unquestioning acceptance of racialism, ring completely true."
Says Power: "I just wanted to represent South African society. I did not bring in any controversial politics because, actually, I'm more interested in human psychology than in politics.
He said he had received several disapproving letters - from both friends and strangers - expressing themselves shocked at the frank treatment of the theme.
"Holiday" has roused considerable interest in literary circles overseas and has received several highly favourable reviews. These have appeared under such lurid headlines as: "Tale of Tortured Teenager", and "Initiation Rites".
The Times Literary Supplement describes the book as "an interesting first novel by a promising author."
The Yorkshire Evening Post says: "Michael Power displays a penetrating and compassionate insight into the workings of 16-year-old Jeremy." and the reviewer on the Birmingham Post comments: "A remarkable first novel."
In Johannesburg yesterday, Power told me: "I am interesting in human conflict and the clash of characters. I had to write frankly. It would have been impossible to treat the theme with anything other than complete honesty."
A tall, fair-haired man, Power comes from a well-known Natal family. His father is a professional man in Maritzburg.
He admits that his family has been "a bit upset" by the frankness of his writing.
- Sunday Times, 29 July 1962
A GATHERING OF GOLDEN ANGELS
Power has described this book as his "Pietermaritzburg novel" although the provincial capital is renamed Harmersburg. The main character, Hayden Starle, having returned from university in England after his father has a heart attack is expected to take over the family firm but young Hayden looks unlikely to live up to expectations.
What the press said:
'Fresh and original as his first novel, Holiday, was, this new book represents a considerable advance for this young South African author. His style has sharpened and become more assured and as a result he writes now with far greater smoothness. The characters in Holiday were bright and brisk and cleanly drawn, witty and at the same time most percipient. The people in this new novel are out of the same stuff so that the story goes with surging swing right from the start.' Pretoria News, 29 August 1963
'Hayden returns to South Africa from an English university because his tycoonish father has a heart attack. The family expect him to take over the traditional reins of a captain of industry and all-white, all-Christian social life, but soon he is in love with a Jew and openly supporting a white girl and coloured boy who are charged under the Immorailty Act with consorting together. ('Sex relations between the races has been elevated into such a crime that all other crimes have been made to appear nothing more than a breach of good taste.')
There has almost been a surfeit of novels on South Africa's racial theme but Michael Power's second book is still welcome. The theme is not original but he has a rare gift for discussing serious themes without preaching and, in the expression of basic human values up against the powerful onslaught of wealth and tradition, he writes with a spare, forceful style which has the ring of integrity and truth.' - Books and Bookmen, August 1963
'Once again Michael Power writes about a young South African growing up, or in this case, standing on his own feet after being torn by conflicting loyalties, family pressures and big decisions in the sun-drenched setting of enormous wealth, strong prejudice and strict penalties.
'By the end of A Gathering of Golden Angels its leading character has noticeably matured. Much the same can be said of Michael Power's writing.' - The Star, 23 August 1963
1962. Holiday. London: Cassell Publishers.
1963. A Gathering of Golden Angels. London: Cassell Publishers.
2008. Shadow Game. London: Penguin Books.