Learie Constantine

Published: 2008
Pages: 212
Author: Mason, Peter
Publisher: Signal
Rating: 4 stars

Learie Constantine

This publication is part of a series called ‘Caribbean Lives’ and apart from Constantine it features other prominent West Indians such as Bob Marley.

It can always be a worry when you read this sort of series, especially with such a unique life enjoyed by the subject of this book. The concern is that the author will not understand all the components of the subjects life, and the cricket side for instance can be covered in a perfunctory way, with little understanding of the intricacies of the game.

My fears in this instance were quickly allayed, the author Peter Mason has an obvious appreciation and understanding of the finer points of cricket, and thankfully for this cricket tragic he kept bringing the story back to the game of cricket, so it ran throughout the narrative, and manages to maintain the interest of the cricket follower.

This is the second biography of Learie Constantine I have now read, the other by Gerald Howat was released in 1975. I have to admit that I struggled through the non-cricket part (about half the book), but then again I was only a teenager. This time around I thoroughly enjoyed the second half – when his playing days were over – of this most recent offering. The author has not made it ‘too heavy’ and to his credit always keeps the story moving.

Some of the racist incidents and events that occurred to both Constantine and his countrymen during his time in England and which are covered in the book, are not just sad, but at times made me embarrassed to be of Anglo Saxon decent.

Even a man with the impressive credentials of Learie Constantine, became so accustomed to slights that he learned never to proffer his hand for a handshake unless the person he was meeting offered his hand first.

He also lost a lot of his ‘catholic faith’ after an experience in a United States church when praying at the front of the church he was told by a white verger ‘git o’ there! Niggers at the back!’.

The author also relates the story that during his (Constantine) playing days for the West Indies the Islands would often organise social functions that were for whites only.

Mason is quite prepared to criticise his subject, and is also prepared to offer his own opinion on the decisions and life choices of Constantine.

If you are unfamiliar with the Constantine story, you are in for a fascinating read, from a relatively poor background, to Test cricketer, to barrister, to minister, to a Knight, to a Lord. The mind boggles at just how much he crammed into and achieved during his life.

You often read a biography and think it a good read, but you know that in a few years there will be a better more in-depth updated version. It would not surprise if this is the last and definitive biography of Lord Learie Constantine.

This is not just for cricket fans, but for almost anyone who enjoys a quality read. Strongly recommended.

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