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Tani Adewumi is the eight-year-old Nigerian-born boy who recently won the NY State Chess Championship after playing the game for only a year. Tani and his family's story begins amidst Boko Haram's reign of terror in their native country of Nigeria and takes them to a New York City homeless shelter, where they waited to be granted religious asylum. Tani's father, who came from a royal Nigerian family, became a dishwasher and Uber driver to support his family. His mother, whose family owned the largest printing press in Nigeria and had been working at a bank for over a decade, trained to become a home-aid. So, when Tani asked to join the chess program at PS 116, which required a fee, it seemed unlikely. His mother wrote to the coach, who offered Tani a scholarship. Miracles led Tani and his family to New York. As Tani's father puts it, There are many times in my life where I thought this must be the miracle and yet, I did not know that the miracle had not yet begun. Craig Borlase (craigborlase.com) is a bestselling British author and collaborative writer of more than 45 books. He specializes in memoir, and his most recent book is the New York Times bestseller Finding Gobi with Dion Leonard.
Tani Adewumi’s life-affirming memoir is a “dare to dream” story with the power to make souls sing. As he and his parents relate their extraordinary experiences from living under Boko Haram in Nigeria to forging a new life in America, eight-year-old Tani’s voice is unfailingly endearing, with his parents’ narratives providing enlightening context, underpinned by their Christian faith. The tone is set in the introduction, in which Tani tells us that while he’s not sure what he’ll do when he grows up (maybe become a chess grandmaster, maybe a pilot, or maybe both), “I do know this much. I believe in miracles.” The story begins when Tani’s printer father is visited by Boko Haram and he evades their order to print posters that declare “No to Western Education” and “Kill all Christians”. When this makes the family a target, they flee to another area of Nigeria, then to Dallas after it becomes clear they’re not safe in their homeland. But their first experiences in America are from the life they’d hoped for. They stay with Tani’s great uncle, whose American wife becomes hostile, which compels them to move again. Thanks to the kindness of an old Nigerian friend, they’re able to move to New York where a pastor finds them a place in a shelter. Here Tani is given the opportunity to join a chess club, where meeting Coach Shawn proves to be life-changing. Tani’s natural talent for chess coupled with hard work, family support, and the kindness of coaches who give him a scholarship, sees him make fast progress. Within months he’s crowned State Chess Champion. But it doesn’t end there – when Coach Shawn suggests the family tell the national press their story to help them secure a place to live, the coverage leads to even bigger things. Alongside the overarching story, Tani’s mother shares fascinating detail about her Yoruba heritage, and this memoir is also poignant in showing the hard realities of migrant life. This comes recommended for readers who love discovering human stories that don’t shirk from the truth, but still radiate a feel-good message of hope. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.