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The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster

The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster

4.0 2
by Tim Crothers

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Based on a popular ESPN magazine article selected by Dave Eggers for The Best American Nonrequired Reading and a finalist for a National Magazine Award, the inspiring true story of Phiona Mutesi, a teenage chess prodigy from the slums of Kampala, Uganda.

PHIONA MUTESI sleeps in a decrepit shack with her mother and three siblings and struggles to find a


Based on a popular ESPN magazine article selected by Dave Eggers for The Best American Nonrequired Reading and a finalist for a National Magazine Award, the inspiring true story of Phiona Mutesi, a teenage chess prodigy 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.

One day in 2005, while searching for food, nine-year-old Phiona followed her brother to a dusty veranda where she met Robert Katende, who had also grown up in the Kampala slums. Katende, a war refugee turned missionary, had an improbable dream: to empower kids through chess—a game so foreign there is no word for it in their native language. Laying a chessboard in the dirt of the Katwe slum, Robert painstakingly taught the game each day. When he left at night, slum kids played on with bottlecaps on scraps of cardboard. At first they came for a free bowl of porridge, but many grew to love chess, a game that—like their daily lives—means persevering against great obstacles. Of these kids, one stood out as an immense talent: Phiona.

By the age of eleven Phiona was her country’s junior champion and at fifteen, the national champion. In September 2010, she traveled to Siberia, a rare journey out of Katwe, to compete in the Chess Olympiad, the world’s most prestigious team-chess event. 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.

Like Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, The Queen of Katwe is an intimate and heartrending portrait of human life on the poor fringes of the twenty-first century.

Editorial Reviews

“It’s a story almost too uplifting to believe… Crothers tells Phiona Mutesi’s story in a crisp, reportorial style, but it’s nearly impossible to read the book without a strong emotional response… Inspiring.”
"The Queen of Katwe Tim Crothers gives us an inspiring and heart-wrenching story."
Shelf Awareness
"An inspirational profile of an amazing chess player from one of the world's worst slums."
From the Publisher
"A moving and universal story of the power of potential and the wonder of perseverance. This story will inspire you—and will make you wonder how many more Phionas there are among us."—Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, New York Times-bestselling author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

"This story of a young woman's triumph over the unimaginably cruel fortune she was born into would pierce a heart of stone."—Hillary Jordan, New York Times-bestselling author of Mudbound and When She Woke

The Queen of Katwe is one of the most inspiring, thought-provoking, humbling books I’ve ever read. It’s a must-read for any chess player, woman, athlete, or frankly anyone who knows any of the previous three, aka everyone!”—Siva Sankrithi, Math Teacher & Chess Coach, Lakeside Upper School, Seattle, WA

The Queen of Katwe is gripping. We witness Phiona’s incredible evolution as a player, as she competes against older and far more experienced competitors. It also offers readers a fascinating look at a war-torn and struggling nation, as well as the unlikely story of how her mentor Robert Katende, a refugee of Uganda’s civil war, has created a flourishing chess program for kids in one of Africa’s most treacherous slums. This story has the power to inspire girls everywhere."—Alexandra Kosteniuk, Grandmaster, 12th Women's World Chess Champion (www.chessqueen.com)

"Moving.... A poignant reminder of the power of hope."—Kirkus Reviews

Bill Littlefield
"The Queen of Katwe is an extraordinary account of one young woman’s exceptional achievement. It is also a lament for this world in which only a tiny number of incredibly fortunate and exceptionally determined children have any chance of escaping the dehumanizing poverty that prevails in Katwe and places like it."
The Boston Globe
"Part of Crothers's achievement is his presentation of the terrible circumstances millions of people battle every day to sustain themselves and feed their families, nearly all of them lacking the bright, improbable possibility provided by Mutesi."
The Age (Australia)
"TimCrothers powerfully captures the crushing poverty in which Mutesi and herfamily still live."
The Sports Quotient - Robert Hess
"Phiona’s story transcends the limitations of the chessboard—her life not confined to the miniature pieces that her hand glides from her side of the board to attack her opponent’s king. No, Phiona succeeding at chess, like the fight to become great athletes for so many impoverished people around the world, has been a game for her life."
New York Post
"Tell Me More" NPR
"[A] remarkable story."
"Wonderful.... A story of resilience and creativity in the midst of immense need."
Charleston Post Courier
“So compelling… Crothers writes the story matter-of-factly ... reserving judgment and bias…. It beckons the reader to wonder at the possibilities that lay before Mutesi, and it reminds us of the harsh reality in which she continues to live.”
Washington Post
"Crothers provides in-depth portraits of the people and institutions around Mutesi."
Kirkus Reviews
Sports journalist Crothers' (The Man Watching: A Biography of Anson Dorrance, the Unlikely Architect of the Greatest College Sports Dynasty Ever, 2006, etc.) moving account of an impoverished Ugandan girl's unlikely rise to prominence in the world of competitive chess. Phiona Mutesi discovered chess by accident. Eager to find out where her brother Brian went when he "[snuck] away from his chores," 9-year-old Phiona followed him to a "dusty veranda" in Katwe, the slum where they lived. There, she encountered a group of children learning about chess through an outreach program designed to bring food, sports and religion to poor children. The program leader, Robert Katende, encouraged the shy Phiona to join and paired her with a 4-year-old girl to pick up the basics of the game. Soon, she was playing, and defeating, the most advanced boys in the group. Deciding that his players, whom he christened the Pioneers, needed a goal beyond simply mastering the game, Katende began entering them in local tournaments against other children from more privileged backgrounds. Though shunned for being dirty "street kids," they still made a respectable showing. But it wasn't until 2007, when Phiona unexpectedly became Uganda's female under-20 chess champion, that Katende realized the extent of her gift. Under his tutelage, she went on to win the 2008 and 2009 junior championships and help a group of other talented Pioneers win an international tournament in 2010. Later that year, she was invited to play in another team event, the Chess Olympiad in Siberia. Although she lost, she gained the respect of older players, who declared that she was a grandmaster in the making. As Crothers points out, however, whether Phiona can live up to her potential will depend on whether she can outmaneuver an even more formidable opponent: the environment of Katwe, which "conspires against her on so many levels." A poignant reminder of the power of hope.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Queen of Katwe Land of the Frogs

Hakim Ssewaya, who has lived 40 years in Katwe, stands in front of his shack. The structure fills with raw sewage during the slum’s frequent floods.

Meet the Author

Tim Crothers is a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He is the author of The Man Watching, the biography of University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, and coauthor of Hard Work, the autobiography of UNC basketball coach Roy Williams. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his wife and two children.

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The Queen of Katwe: One Girl's Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love chess myself. To read this story, of a young girl straight from the slums of Uganda, she is an insperation. This story has also pulled on my heart strings. I am an ER nurse as well. It was interesting to hear that she dreams of being a nurse also some day. I would be willing to sponsor her, as a foriegn exchange student here in Minnesota. If there is a way, I would be willing to do that. She could finish her schooling here in Minnesota, and continue her chess training.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago