This truly is a book fit for our times: The Kindness of Strangers (edited by Fearghal O’Nuallain; various authors) is a globetrotting world tour on the back of heart-warming stories guaranteed to rekindle your faith in humanity. This anthology of altruistic deeds spans thousands of miles: from scalding deserts to unforgiving expanses of ice – and a lot more in between. The format is a straightforward one: there isn’t a single narrator, so each story gets a title (my favourite one was ‘Kindness Tastes like a Piranha’ – now, if that doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will!) and a handful of pages, followed by a short author bio, complete with social media details, should anyone be intrigued to find out more.
So every few pages, we – the readers – get thrown straight in the thick of the action, in a new location poles apart (at times literally!) from where we just left off, and experience the thrill of finding our feet in unfamiliar surroundings. The events recounted are the first-hand experiences of travellers and explorers who dared to trust the help that was offered to them at times when they found themselves completely out of their comfort zone – or even in real danger.
These 'adventurous souls', as they are described in the blurb, have turned gifted storytellers to share their tales. It’s inspiring to hear about their physical prowess and fascinating to read the descriptions of the far-flung places they visited, but the focus is not really on these matters: our attention is directed towards the moments when they encountered kindness. This humble quality is the real star of the show and the warmth that it brings to the situations is almost palpable when reading through the text.
But don’t be mistaken: the topics treated are never sugar-coated in a sort of unicorns-and-rainbows-everywhere way; the writers never shy away from tackling difficult topics in all their starkness, whether they be the appalling conditions of the refugee camps or the devastating effects of the footprint mankind is leaving on the planet. Also, the people writing their stories do so in an honest and relatable way: they don’t hide their feelings – including fear or trepidation – and are aware of the potential dangers that could be lurking. They are not inexperienced novices, going wide-eyed into the world: they are smart and caring people who made a conscious choice to believe that we, as humans, have more in common with each other than what makes us different and that the instinct to help one another is universal.
Buying this book* at the moment is practically an act of defiance against the constant barrage of bad news – Trump, climate change, rising inequality... And don’t even get me started on Brexit! – which seems to multiply every time we hit the refresh button on any news website. So give hope another go: little by little, as each story unfolds and you become increasingly engrossed in the events, revel in that warm, fuzzy feeling you haven’t perhaps experienced in a while. It might just grow stronger than you think.
*Have I mentioned that all royalties go directly to fund Oxfam’s work with refugees? Even more reason to go and grab a copy!