A touching debut memoir about a young Ugandan man who escapes poverty and becomes a mentor for others.
Katende writes that he was abandoned by his parents as an infant and spent his early years with his grandmother, wandering from village to village in search of food. To make matters worse, a terrifying insurrection against the country’s president sent them into hiding. After the war, Katende’s mother returned to live with them but then died of breast cancer in the late 1980s. The author considered ending his life with rat poison when he was in elementary school, but he didn’t have enough money to buy it. Instead, he persevered and began to excel at school and in sports. He eventually earned a scholarship to pursue an engineering degree at Kyambogo University in Kampala, Uganda. Katende credits much of his success to an accomplished soccer player and mentor he met there—Aloysius Kyazze, who fostered his Christian faith and encouraged him to play sports. In turn, the author says, he was inspired to help others succeed, and he founded SOM Chess Academy. His most notable protégé was the Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi, whose story was portrayed in a 2012 book by the American journalist Tim Crothers and the 2016 Disney film Queen of Katwe. The first half of this fast-paced account includes commentary within stories of Katende’s early struggles. For example, an anecdote about his grandmother’s creative search for food is coupled with an account of chess strategy. Despite the author’s hardships throughout his life, the slim book’s tone is upbeat, and the second half—written with research partner and debut author Nathan Kiwere—presents heartfelt testimonies from Katende’s students. The author’s smooth-flowing prose is laced with poignant details; for example, in order to get hungry kids to come to the chess club, Katende says that he offered free bowls of porridge. There are several memorable people in these stories, as well, such as Sharif Wasswa Mbazira, who didn’t let severe disabilities affecting his limbs stop him from competing in chess tournaments in the United States.
A quick, inspirational story of overcoming adversity.