Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Queen of Katwe


Author: Tim Crothers
Publisher: Scribner
October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5781-4
Genre: Non-fiction \ biography
224 pages. $26.00. 5 stars


If one is blissfully unaware of the many opportunities, advantages, luxuries and conveniences that one has been blessed with simply by living in these United States of America . . . and one wishes to remain in that state of blissful ignorance . . . please do not read this book.  Tim Crothers pulls no punches, and he makes no apologies, as he recounts the way in which that elusive (to some, like this reviewer!) game of chess has transformed the life of one young girl from the slums of Kampala, Uganda.

Phiona Mutesi sleeps in a decrepit shack with her mother and three siblings and struggles to find a single meal each day. Phiona has been out of school most of her life because her mother cannot afford it, so she is only now learning to read and write.  Phiona Mutesi is also one of the best chess players in the world. 

Phiona’s dream is to one day become a Grandmaster, the most elite title in chess.  But to reach that goal, she must grapple with everyday life in one of the world’s most unstable countries, a place where girls are taught to be mothers, not dreamers, and the threats of AIDS, kidnapping, and starvation loom over the people of Katwe.

Taking the nuances of chess as an outline, Tim Crothers chronicles the life of Phiona Mutesi from a 9-year old girl who could only see to the next sunrise to a 15-year old tournament champion in the Chess Olympiad, the world’s most prestigious team chess event.  You’ll learn lessons from Phiona herself as she shares how chess transformed not only her daily existence, but her entire philosophy of who she is, who she wants to be, and how she has the ability within her to get there.

THE QUEEN OF KATWE is not for the squeamish, or the faint of heart.  A word to the wise is sufficient.

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