Archive for the ‘Autobiography’ Category


Slumdog Queen

Review of The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster; Tim Crothers; Scribner 2012 English Edition; pp 224  

– Susan Thomas

The Queen of Katwe is an inspiring and extraordinary story of one girl’s determination and triumph in the chess world. Born into dire poverty and overcoming two near-death experiences, Phiona Mutesi lives with her mother and three siblings in Katwe, a decrepit slum in Kampala, Uganda. She has also slept on the street and survived for days without food, let alone a basic school education. Through a rudimentary chess clinic in Katwe initiated by a war refugee, Robert Katende, a nine-year-old Phiona is initially taught by a four year old and continues to master the game of chess through perseverance, humility and practicing in decrepit slum conditions.

Despite her limited language skills, malnutrition and terrible squalour, she plays in chess championships in Russia and Sudan and easily beats out seasoned players. With her championship winnings, she pays hers mothers’ debts, her family’s slum rent and her own school fees to pursue a formal education while also initiating her own primitive chess clinic to empower other children in the slum. Her mastery of the game of chess and the intangible benefits are a poignant example of hope and determination and her culture shock of experiencing her first flight, the luxuries of a bed and running water is equally poignant and moving.

The author candidly shares the heart-breaking stories of Phiona, Robert and other slum children, who dream greatly in the face of enormous challenges and use chess as a means of motivation to survive emotionally and economically.

Just like the moving stories of teaching boxing to girls in Afghanistan or photography to children of brothel workers in India, Queen of Katwe shows how it is possible to patiently teach, mentor and empower the less fortunate through major obstacles. The story leaves you yearning for more; wondering how Phiona is surviving through the politics of the Chess Federation, if she completed her education and you continue rooting for her success.


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Rating: 7.2/10 (6 votes cast)

A Class Undivided

Review of To Sir, With Love; E.R.Braithwaite; Jove books; Rs 149; pp189

– Sharon Pradeeptha

Life’s a battlefield. You need to be a fighter to live in it, not exist and, mark you, live….

After his demobilisation from the Royal Air Force in 1945, E.R. Braithwaite was turned down from the numerous job opportunities that he applied for, not because he was incapable but because of racial discrimination which existed so strongly in the community.

Heartbroken and unable to drag on with life, he applied to the Ministry of Education as a teacher.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (3 votes cast)

Turkey To Hold Its First Ever Diego-Kahlo Paintings Exhibition

Born José Diego Rivera Barrientos in December 1886, this Mexican muralistis best known for being one the greatest artists of the 20th century and one of the pioneers of 20th century art and politics in Mexico. In his 70 years of living, he has lived, worked and travelled across many countries, been influenced by several themes and other artists.

Starting with portraits and landscapes and later becoming a master in Cubism and frescoes his political voice is best heard and felt through his murals. Diego was an ardent Marxist and Communist. His famous work of writing is My Art, My Life: AN Autobiography.

And for the first time in the history of Turkey, it will be exhibiting 40 pieces of work by Diego and Kahlo, his long time student, friend and wife. The Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museum will exhibit these selected works for a show starting December 23 and go on till March 2011. The exhibition will be curated by Professor Helga Prignitz-Poda.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)

Chasing Bombay

Review – Shantaram; Gregory David Roberts; Abacus; pp 936

By Susan Thomas

A page-turning thriller on the semi-autobiographical life of an Australian bank robber who escape prison to the slums and criminal underworld of Bombay.

Once exposed to the dichotomies and varying nuances of the Indian culture, he fully embraces his new way of life, not simply for survival reasons, but due to his utmost appreciation of India’s warm hospitality, polyglot culture and the amusing disposition of its people. He studies Marathi, Hindi and Urdu, sets up a free clinic in the slums and is bestowed with the name “Shantaram” (meaning man of God’s peace) or “Linbaba” in other circles.

To say that Linbaba is a raging daredevil or attracted to violence and brutality would be an understatement. He joins the Bombay mafia in passport forgery, illegal foreign currency trading and weapons/arms trade. His additional stints include 4 months in prison in Bombay, fighting with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and at the end, an offer to fight with the LTTE in Sri Lanka. In a morbid fashion, he diligently maintains the mafia’s honour code of truth and courage i.e. no engaging in prostitution or pornography.

After ploughing through 900 pages of Bombay slum life and the Indian criminal world through the eyes of an Australian convict, what I found disturbing was not the gore or violence, but the Linbaba’s perpetual philosophical debating of good versus evil and his contradictory actions. His actions swing from avenging a former Bombay Madam to dancing in Bollywood flicks to negotiating freedom for fellow inmates at the Arthur Road prison.

His poetic expressions and very accurate observations about India and its people seem completely uncanny for a man who solely lives by his wits. Nevertheless, Shantaram was an engaging read with intriguing plots and meaningful characters, which initially started off as Dominique Lapierre’s “City of Joy” and ended up being a combination of Vikas Swarup’s “Q & A” and Mira Nair”s movie “Salaam Bombay”.

Verdict: Amchi Mumbai Hurray! Definitely a page-turner. Full of emotions and heart-touching real-life incidents. Great read.

Susan Thomas is an avid reader and traveller. She works at one of Canada’s largest banks, which helps fund her many whims and voyages.

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Rating: 8.3/10 (6 votes cast)

From Dream To Disaster – Che’s Congo Mission

Review of The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in The Congo; Ernesto Che Guevara; Perseus Distribution

– Shana Susan Ninan

How many histories, personal accounts, or even for that war stories, have you read that start this: “This is the history of a failure.”? That’s how Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara starts his The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo. Having stopped Lee Anderson’s biography of Che in the middle only to read Che’s account in the Congo, I must say it was worth the read. If Che thought it was a failure, he has also identified the errors, for future reference, in the epilogue of the book.

Che’s time in the Congo – April to November 1965 – was scattered with numerous events, little triumphs but loads of disappointment. Before going in to his failures, lemme tell you how well he did in the Congo. His diaries record his truthful reactions and responses in the African jungle. No wonder the Cuban government kept it under wraps for about four decades. Che appealed to me as an adventurer and a traveller. His thirst for society’s welfare and upliftment of the masses led him to see and feel their pulse.

I think what drove him to Congo were his urge to spread Communist practices in the rest of the world beyond Latin America and Cuba, and his extreme hate for US neo-imperialist colonisations. Che’s inclusive policy in dealing with his black and African-origin Cubans is quite commendable. His ability to plan and execute strategies, steadfastness to the cause, positive thinking even in the midst of downfall are the qualities of a matured Communist.

The infighting between the Congolese tribes, the friction between them and the Rwandans and the Tanzanians, the non-conducive climate, the laziness of the natives and the absolute neglect of the top brass of the Congolese government all contributed to Che’s fall.

How can you expect an untrained, uninitiated Congolese to believe in Che’s ideals and follow his orders without any questioning or murmur? Why would a people who fight neighbouring clans for land and agriculture be interested in uniting their country under Communist ideologies? I wondered how Che could grumble, though occasionally, about the natives’ lackadaisical approach when they don’t even want it, in the first place.

Che’s quality as a leader cannot be questioned by the events that took place in the Congo. His words and deeds have led thousands of later revolutionaries and thinkers to their goals.

Verdict: Illustrative account; neat text; slightly tedious and long-drawn in the second half. All in all, a must-read for Che’s fans and followers.

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Rating: 7.4/10 (5 votes cast)