Beyond a Boundary (1963) is C.L.R. James's classic memoir and exegesis of cricket in the colonial West Indies. James (1901-1989), a native of Trinidad who spent many of his adult years in Britain, was involved with cricket as a player, critic and commentator. He was also an historian, novelist, cultural and political critic, and activist. In Beyond a Boundary he describes how irrevocably enmeshed the sport was in his own development, as well as in the political, social and racial struggles of his time.
I wish I was knowledgeable enough to discuss how this has all played out in the fifty-plus years since Beyond a Boundary was published. I'm not, but I want to offer to you this statement by James explaining the premise of this book. It speaks to the roles sport can play in defining a society and the points of struggle, of contest, and of contradiction within it.
I haven’t the slightest doubt that the clash of race, caste and class did not retard but stimulated West Indian cricket. I am equally certain that in those years social and political passions, denied normal outlets, expressed themselves so fiercely in cricket (and other games) precisely because they were games. Here began my personal calvary. The British tradition soaked deep into me was that when you entered the sporting arena you left behind you the sordid compromises of everyday existence. Yet for us to do that we would have had to divest ourselves of our skins. From the moment I had to decide which club I would join the contrast between the ideal and the real fascinated me and tore at my insides. Nor could the local population see it otherwise. The class and racial rivalries were too intense. They could be fought out without violence or much lost except pride and honour. Thus the cricket field was a stage on which selected individuals played representative roles which were charged with social significance. I propose now to place on record some of the characters and as much as I can reproduce (I remember everything) of the social conflict. I have been warned that some of these characters are unknown and therefore unlikely to interest non-West Indian readers. I cannot think so.
He was right in that. Beyond a Boundary certainly held my interest, even though its "players" were not only unknown to me (as is cricket, largely, I'm afraid!) but also long departed from the planet. The circumstances James describes are fascinating and, though intricate, they resonate widely. I learned a lot from this book.