The Queen of Katwe
By Tim Crothers
Published by Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
245 Pages

ABOUT BOOK: The “astonishing” (The New York Times Book Review) and “inspirational” (Shelf Awareness) true story of Phiona Mutesi—a teenage chess prodigy from the slums of Uganda.

One day in 2005 while searching for food, nine-year-old Ugandan Phiona Mutesi followed her brother to a dusty veranda where she met Robert Katende.

Katende, a war refugee turned missionary, had an improbable dream: to empower kids in the Katwe slum through chess—a game so foreign there is no word for it in their native language. Laying a chess­board in the dirt, Robert began to teach. At first children came for a free bowl of porridge, but many grew to love the game that—like their daily lives—requires persevering against great obstacles. Of these kids, one girl stood out as an immense talent: Phiona.

By the age of eleven Phiona was her country’s junior champion, and at fifteen, the national champion. Now a Woman Candidate Master—the first female titled player in her country’s history—Phiona dreams of becoming a Grandmaster, the most elite level in chess. But to reach that goal, she must grapple with everyday life in one of the world’s most unstable coun­tries. The Queen of Katweis a “remarkable” (NPR) and “riveting” (New York Post) book that shows how “Phiona’s story transcends the limitations of the chessboard” (Robert Hess, US Grandmaster)

REVIEW: The game of chess fascinates me and so do the people who play it. The cover caught my eye first.  I had to know about this young girl from Katwe who became a campion.

The story opens up on Sept 19th 2010 a prologue. Phiona’s wins a place on the Olympiad team. She doesn’t realize what that means. There is then a letter there she writes to her Mom explaining about the experience and some of what she has encountered.

Then the story switches to a chapter titled Land of the Frogs. It gives a brief history of Uganda and its land, people and political struggles. The reader needs to know some of this to appreciate Coach Robert and Phiona and where they have come from. What they have overcome. (I’m not a history buff so I found this helpful) Then the next chapter is Robert Katende’s story and how he founded the Sports Outreach and the chess club known as the Pioneers in Katwe. It’s amazing how God connects people so they can bring out the greater good inside of others.

Who knew Phiona’s whole world would change at nine years old when she followed her brother to a dusty veranda; desperate for food and curious as to what he was up to. There she watched the Pioneer boys chess club play a game she’d never heard of or seen before. After eating a bowl of porridge she wanted to learn how to play.

Robert Katende the Coach of the Sports Outreach Institute missionary program had been coaching a soccer team as an outreach to the community. He was looking for something to draw the non-athletic kids in from the slum. What kept the kids coming back was a free meal and the fact that they were curious about this game. Robert saw Phiona’s interest in the game and set her up with a mentor. A girl younger than herself. Gloria started with showing her what a pawn was and took each piece in turn. It only took Phiona one day to catch on to the game.

Phiona was a sponge soaking up all she could. Robert then set her up to learn from the boys. They were reluctant at first to teach her but when they saw how quickly she caught on they were happy to show her more. Robert and Phiona looked at the game of chess in a similar way. It was a way to survive. Robert was gifted in soccer and found his way out of the slum through the game. Phiona saw chess as her wings to fly. Each time she played she loved the game more and more.

Coach Robert went to bat for three kids he felt would do well and grow as players if he took them to a national champion game. They got funding and went on a grand adventure. Talk about culture shock and the fact that they had to play the game well and not be distracted. It was amazing.

Godfrey Gale said, “Everything at the airport was strange to Phiona; security cameras, luggage conveyors so many white people…” Not to mention the car ride to the airport, public bathrooms, running water etc.

Godfrey explains about their trip to Sudan…,”Sudan might as well have been the moon to people in the slum who have no point of reference. The three couldn’t share their experiences with others because they just couldn’t connect.”

After all the amazing experiences they had at the tournament playing the game, sleeping in a bed for the first time, eating more food than they ever have; the three went back to their home where Phiona asked her mom, “Do we have enough food for breakfast?”

Godfrey Gale continued,…”In future Olympians, I believe our teams will be made up entirely of kids from the slums. They are driven by the kind of life they lead. There is a desperation in the way they play that you don’t see in the other kids, you play harder when the outcome may decide if you eat that night.”

Coach Robert shares with the kids the story of Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus. “The rest feared. But St. Peter was the one who stepped out of the boat. It wasn’t an easy situation. It is extraordinary. Unrealistic. How do you get out of the boat then step on the water when you know you are definitely going to drown? But that’s when you realize it was a miracle. He could do it. If he hadn’t stepped out, there would be no miracle. So, that’s why sometimes we need to get out of our boats to realize a miracle. We can’t just sit back and wait for a miracle to happen.”

“What can we do with the little we have? Because no one is here without anything. But the issue is. How can I work with the little I have to go to another level?”

This is outstanding story of hope, courage, and faith that will knock your socks off. This team had the courage to rise above unimaginable circumstances and dream big. It will make you think differently about your life and your dreams. It’s an inspiring read and one that would be great for your book club. The author has included fifteen topic and questions for your discussion time. There are also three ideas to enhance your book club and/or classroom experience. Soon this story will be made into a Disney motion picture. This is a must read.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Buzz Plant. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Nora St. Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins!
The Book Club Network blog
Book Fun Magazine


Post a Comment