Book review: The Queen of Katwe

The Queen of Katwe is engrossing, inspiring and reminder of the power of hope.
The Queen of Katwe is engrossing, inspiring and reminder of the power of hope.

BOOK: The Queen of Katwe
AUTHOR: Tim Crothers
PUBLISHER: Scribe Publishing
RRP: $24.95

THIS story begins in a tiny shack barely fit for one person let alone six, in the slums of Katwe outside Kampala, Uganda.

Enter Robert Katende, a refugee and soccer-player turned missionary who had also grown up in the slums, who hatches an unlikely plan of teaching chess to impoverished children in Katwe.

Playing with bottle caps, he succeeds in getting them off the streets and into the game.

One day, Phiona Mutesi follows her brother to a dilapidated building and asks to be allowed in and join the other children.

At nine years of age, hungry and illiterate, her first tutor is four years old and soon teaches her everything she knows.

Realizing he had an unusual talent on his hands, Katende entered Phiona in team games where at 11.

She became Ugandan junior champion and at 15 won the African junior chess title.

In 2010 she participated in the Chess Olympiad in Siberia and although she did not win an award, she has since gained recognition as a potential grandmaster.

Meanwhile, to realize her dream, Phiona must contend with life in one of the world's most unstable countries, where AIDS, kidnappings and starvation loom constantly.

Tim Crothers' story is engrossing and inspiring and a poignant reminder of the power of hope.

Still at school in Katwe and barely speaking English, Phiona has just won a title at the recent 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul.

As in her daily life, chess is for Phiona all about navigating obstacles.

Crothers' book is a heart-warming testament to her determination and courage.