My book club is reading the Queen of Katwe this month. It was chosen because the story is becoming a movie and at the recommendation of one of our members. The story of how chess has changed Phiona’s life is inspiring. It certainly makes the reader appreciate the resilience and strength of mothers raising their children in the slums and how children struggling to survive are learning while living in abject poverty, never knowing if there would be a meal.
The story shares a great deal of history of the individuals who formed the chess clubs and their past experiences that led to this altruistic effort. Unfortunately, this detail was too much and made it a challenge to keep the characters and history straight. In fact, there was so much historic detail that Phiona was not really introduced until one third of the way through the book. The descriptions of the generations of poverty provided a picture of the desperation this family experienced but in more detail than was necessary.
I think that the author clearly wished to share Ugandan history but some details would have made the story leaner and more focused on Phiona’s story. For example, the section relating to the Ugandan runners added little to the story and distracted the reader from Phiona’s experience with Chess.
The underlying story of Phiona was intriguing. With a good editor, I believe that the book could have been shortened providing a stronger narrative about the girl’s experience and the benefits of chess in helping her break away from the poverty of the slums. The author did a good job of helping the reader to picture the shacks, the leaking rain and open areas where sewage covered the ground providing empathy and understanding for the way of life of many individuals across the world.
I was glad to read that the proceeds of this book and the pending movie have assisted Phiona’s mother to move out of the slum and into a house where she can grow vegetables to sell. I would be interested to know what Phiona is doing now as her bio on the Queen of Katwe website does not provide a current review on her experience. Overall, I liked the story of Phiona and her experience with chess but the book could use more focus, more editing and I think that this may be one case where the movie which has been made by Disney exceeds expectations and is better than the book.