My secondhand copy of this book (The Long Road) has been signed by the writer Bruce Cerew in 2010, in the Dutch town of Ede. He travelled a long way to get to The Netherlands. I assume that this book is an autobiography, in which Bruce writes about his life in Nigeria (where he was born and raised and where he worked as a tailor), Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Netherlands. It is not clear to me if the original English text of this book has been published in English. Maybe only the Dutch translation has seen life in print. I did not see any English title in the colofon.
The protagonist in this book is named Ray. He lives in Aba Town in southeastern Nigeria, where he was born around 1971. Hardship is his due with a very difficult relationship with his father. During the long summer holidays he stays with his grandparents in another place called Amata. Here his dreams and nightmares with apparitions start. A constant dream is about a young white girl, who he names Nexus. In his dreams the two even marries. To Ray this is a sign that also in real life he wants to marry a white girl.
After many days and months in turmoil Ray returns to his father (his mother and siblings have been sent away by Ray’s father!) and for a period of three years he studies and works to be a tailor. He moves to Part Harcourt where he gets a job in a tailoring sweatshop. He is very talented and gets the approval of the wife of the governor of Cross Rivers State. He gets a job with her. The wife of the governor, however, is not the only one who is interested in the skills of Ray. One Jenny Bangale wants him to go to Monrovia to work for her company.
In Monrovia disaster strikes for they witness a coup against sergeant Doe. After some time they manage to escape to Sierra Leone, but also here life is pot of boiling water. All the time his dreams of a white girl is still very much alive in his mind and he stays away from other girls.
The next phase of the life of Ray are the attempts to leave West Africa to get to Europe. One day he is on a boat leaving Monrovia and suddenly he is at Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands. All the time he has given details about the events he was involved in but now: nothing on his journey to Amsterdam. Silence, complete silence. WHY?
In The Netherlands we follow his long journey through Dutch screening to weigh his life and his background and his motivation to settle in The Netherlands. At times Ray is very critical of Dutch society and politics and the camps he has to stay in. And still his dream of a white girl is alive. In the Dutch part of the book the hunt for a white girl is on, both inside the camps for asylum seekers as outside. He visits clubs and disco’s, looking for that girl. Later on he moves to near Utrecht and in the streets he starts conversations with white girls. He hooks girls but not very succesful in the end, till he meets Trudy. In the end he marries her.
Remarkable are his tailoring skills that seem to have absconded once he arrives in The Netherlands. In the first plays he stayed in a camp he was in love with a Russian girl and the feeling was mutual, but when they are brought to different camps, there is not much effort on the side of ray to find out where she lives.
At the end of the book Ray recounts what happened to some of his friends. One married to a Dutch girl and lives in The Netherlands. Another friend also married a Dutch girl and the couple now lives in Canada. Jenny Bangale and her husband seem to have vanished into thin air. And The Russian girl Irina? He does not know where she is.
At times Ray gives the impression that he is very shy, but underneath he is very clear about what he wants and he works towards it, also in his relationships with women.
A few times Ray mentions that he is a member of the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA). I have know several SDA members from Central Africa, and they were very clear about their christian position. For Ray religion does not play a role in his life.
Bruce Cerew – De lange weg. Het verhaal van een oorlogskind – 2009