C L R James: Beyond a Boundary

Beyond A Bounary - Cover ImageAuthor: C.L.R. James

Title: Beyond a Boundary

ISBN: 022407427X

Pages: 368

Beyond a Boundary by the West Indian writer, political activist, and cricket lover C L R James is often touted as one of the greatest sports books ever written. In contrast to the outpouring of cash-in publishing that followed the 2005 Ashes, which posed no greater question than ‘how little can I say in return for your money’, James asks something far more fundamental: “what do they know of cricket, who only cricket know”. During the course of the next 340 odd pages, he attempts to answer by placing the game within the context of society as a whole.

James begins be looking back at his upbringing on Trinidad. He was born into the black middle-classes of that island and his gifts for literature and sport earned him a scholarship to the local public school as well as a chance to play in the thriving post World War One Trinidadian cricket scene. It was there that he encountered a number of the great West Indian players from the era approaching their introduction into the test arena. George John, the first great West Indian fast bowler, the legendary Constantine whose game is revealed to have been built as much on hard work as the spontaneity for which he was renowned and George Headly, who is compared favourably to Bradman.

It is here that James begins to introduce wider social themes into the mix. He shows how his schooling, and in particular cricket, instilled a code of ethics that were to stay with him for the rest of his life. The obeying of umpiring decisions, subordinating personal desire for the sake of the team, not complaining about misfortune, and of most significance in pre-independence Trinidad, restraint and loyalty. James reflects on how cricket teams of that era mirrored the complex racial divides of Trinidad, a situation he encounters when choosing a club to play for, and one which makes selecting a team to represent the island a finely judged balancing act.

From here James moves to nineteenth century England, a society whose class division he likens to the twentieth century West Indies. What follows is a masterly dissection of W.G. Grace as both player and figurehead for change within an England on the verge of the Victorian era and he argues that the great man almost single-handedly incorporated cricket into the life of the nation.

It’s at this point that the book really takes flight as James links the explosion of popular sport in England at that time to the invention of the ancient Olympics; developments that he argues go hand in hand with the expansion of democracy and personal freedom. Cricket is shown to be intertwined with the historical movements of the day and the case is made for sport to be regarded as an art in itself – although I felt this particular passage dragged a little.

The text eventually returns full circle back to the West Indies of the late 1950’s as James mounts a powerful avocation for Frank Worell to become the first black captain of the West Indies – this at a time when the author himself was also at the forefront of the campaign for Trinidadian independence. Although it’s interesting that whilst James is fighting the injustices of Trinidadian society, he maintains a great fondness for Britain. Perhaps this is because of his education, which leaned heavily on English literature, as he even refers to himself as a British intellectual.

It must be remembered that the book was written in 1963, with passages from articles by the author that pre-date that. There are times when the language has dated, and discussion of negative tactics & attitudes in the late 1950’s are overshadowed by the increased tempo of the game in the last few years – a development you feel that James would have wholeheartedly approved. As befits a student of English literature, the prose is of the highest quality, perhaps at times running the risk of losing itself in the dictionary, but never dull or pedestrian.

Not a book to take to a cricket match and flick through in-between deliveries. Beyond a Boundary demands and deserves to be read at leisure, with time left to mull over the questions and issues it raises. You could read any number of career biographies and find only a fraction of the depth of insight found within this single volume. A must for any cricket fan with a desire to truly understand the importance of the game and its place in society.

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~ by ThatCricketBlogger on 1 November, 2007.

One Response to “C L R James: Beyond a Boundary”

  1. Great, I did not know about that until now. Cheers!

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