Queen Of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path To Becoming A Chess Champion, by Tim Crothers
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BuzzPlant in exchange for an honest review.]
Shortly into this book, the reader understands the title and realizes that this book makes for a touching and heartwarming future film, but the sort of film that is immensely difficult to watch without reaching for a box of kleenex tissues. This is a book with so many layers of hurdles and difficulties that it is difficult to sort it out, written by an excellent sportswriter who brings a love of rooting for underdogs in athletics and an understanding of both the athletic as well as cultural context of Uganda’s existence to bear in a book that deserves a great deal of attention, just as its titular chess-playing phenom and the many people like her that start out life with a great many disadvantages, including gender, family background, nation and even neighborhood of origin, aside from a lack of education and a high prevalence of diseases and injuries in a country where many people simply lack hope. This book even expresses the reason why I have enjoyed chess so much over the course of my life : “It is a game of survival through considered aggression. It is about finding some clarity among the confusion, some way to organize the chaos by always thinking several moves above the danger (134).”
This book is constructed as an incomplete narrative, as a book that is part memoir of one Phiona (pronounced Fiona) Mutesi, the first Ugandan female to be named a Woman Candidate Master, the lowest of four titles granted by FIDE to female chess players, but an impressive title nonetheless, especially from a country without any sort of chess pedigree and with chess masters of immensely difficult lives, including living in shacks in rundown slums, not the sort of environment where chess masters are usually made. The book is also partly a memoir of Phiona’s mentors and those whose complicated lives led to her having an opportunity, if she is able to take it, to find a life outside of the slums of Fatwe by gaining an education and by finding contacts. Included in this is the suicide of a young man named Andrew Popp, which led his grief-stricken parents to donate funds for education that would have gone towards his education had he not succumbed to despair. The story is one of immense beauty and struggle among grim circumstances including the rape and exploitation of young women–some of them barely teenagers–by much older men, many of them alcoholic womanizers, HIV, illegitimacy, a lassitude that believes hard work is hopeless, a culture that depends on connections rather than merit, and a nation struggling to find something creditable to be known for and respected for within the world, but it is a story that is not yet finished, as Phiona still has not either succumbed to the dangers of her environment nor risen above it and found a way to escape the pull of the slums.
The result is a book that it is easy to appreciate. The author shows immense skill as a writer, gives praise widely to those who helped him to craft his story, and writes from a point of view that gives a vivid picture of the horrifying life of Uganda’s young chess champions while also providing an example of practical Christianity in terms of seeking comprehensive solutions to the problems of poverty that address the whole existence and in seeking to turn difficulty and struggle into success while living in a way that gives glory to God and serves others by helping to teach them based on what we know. The result is a book of about 240 pages that is full of worth and ought to bring Phiona and the struggle of her fellow chess playing street kids to the attention of a wide and supportive audience. Here is hoping that she and her family and her people are able to find success and a better future.
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