I am so impressionable. I have just read a book about the world of chess and am now thinking that I should start playing again. Maybe there is an ap I could get for my computer or smartphone. I know there are instructional books in our library. Of course, the hero of the book that I have just read had none of these advantages. In fact, she barely had clothes and food. The promise of a daily meal was one of the reasons that she took up chess.
The book is The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by sports writer Tim Crothers. The hero is Phiona Mutesi, a street girl from Kampala, Uganda, who at age 14 represented her country at the 2010 Chess Olympiad in Siberia. It is such an unlikely story as there were several times when her mother and siblings literally had no home other than under a tree. With her mother working at the local street market, the kids often had to fend for themselves. One day Phiona followed her brother to a center for poor children where Robert Katende started a chess program with the idea that the discipline of the game would teach boys skills to rise above the slum. Phiona asked to play, too.
What sets The Queen of Katwe aside from feel-good third world achievement books is that the author tells the story but does not suggest for a moment that Phiona has escaped her origins. Several times she has returned from winning chess tournaments in other countries and had to beg for food the next day. Uganda has no safety net.
What can we do about a world that puts girls and women in such peril? This book will break your heart. It might also strengthen your resolve.
Crothers, Tim. The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster. Scribner, 2012. 232p. ISBN 9781451657814.