The Queen of Katwe (book review)


One day in 2005 while searching for food, nine-year-old Ugandan Phiona Mutesi followed her brother to a dusty veranda where she met Robert Katende.

Katende, a war refugee turned missionary, had an improbable dream: to empower kids in the Katwe slum through chess—a game so foreign there is no word for it in their native language. Laying a chess­board in the dirt, Robert began to teach. At first children came for a free bowl of porridge, but many grew to love the game that—like their daily lives—requires persevering against great obstacles. Of these kids, one girl 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. Now a Woman Candidate Master—the first female titled player in her country’s history—Phiona dreams of becoming a Grandmaster, the most elite level in chess. But to reach that goal, she must grapple with everyday life in one of the world’s most unstable countries. The Queen of Katwe is a “remarkable” (NPR) and “riveting” (New York Post) book that shows how “Phiona’s story transcends the limitations of the chessboard” (Robert Hess, US Grandmaster).


I really, really wanted to like this book. I was looking forward to reading it as I was in the mood for an inspirational read. And I got to be inspired. I learned a lot about the culture in Uganda's poorest areas. I was inspired by how Phiona was able to overcome what seems like insurmountable odds in order to become a leader in the world of women's chess. I was inspired by Robert's commitment to the children in the Katwe. I can't imagine what the children of Uganda's poorest areas have to deal with day in and day out. I feel like I have a better understanding of the background of Phiona's story and what challenges missionaries may face in the poorest areas of Uganda.

While I was inspired, there were a few things that really bothered me about this book. There seems to be a lot of filler information with people that I am not sure how were related to the story of Phiona.I came away feeling like I really didn't know Phiona herself. Rather, I knew of the environment but not her. The story did not flow very well. There seemed to be a disconnect with each chapter and it was hard to keep up with where the author was headed.  I also felt like there really wasn't a finite conclusion to the book. 

Overall, I think that it was a needed book that raises awareness and shows how it is possible for someone to overcome insurmountable odds to do well in an area. However, I didn't feel like it was particulary well written. If you would like more information about Phiona’s story and Sports Outreach Institute, please visit

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Buzzplant and Ravu Collective. All opinions of this book are my own.   


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