The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers

The Queen of Katwe is the true story of Phiona, a Ugandan girl from Katwe, one of thequeen of Katwe world’s most dreadful slums.  Amazingly, despite her desperate poverty, she learns chess well enough to represent her country in international chess Olympiads.

As the book begins, Phiona and her family often have only one meal a day.  Since the slum is in a swamp, the floor of their shack is frequently deep in water.  There are no free schools in the area, and since Phiona’s mother has almost no money to pay for tuition, Phiona has had very little education.

When Phiona is nine years old, she sees a man teaching a group of boys how to play a game – chess – that she’s never seen.  Those who come to learn chess get a bowl of porridge each day.  She wants to learn – and to fill her empty stomach.  She proves to have a talent for chess, as well as great determination.  Within a few years, Phiona is winning games in international competitions and discovering such wonders as airplanes and flush toilets!  She also receives a scholarship to return to school.  The money that Phiona receives from this book and from a movie contract makes it possible for her family to move from the slum and into a home that is free from flooding.

This inspirational tale is fascinating, even to people – like me – who don’t play chess.

The movie based on this book won awards from the African-American Film Critics Association and from the Women Film Critics Circle.  It stars David Olelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, and Madina Nalwanga.

The book’s author lives in Chapel Hill.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)


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