Will Buckingham’s book Hello, Stranger: How We Find Connection in a Disconnected World defies categorization. It flows so comfortably between moving memoir, travelogue, to philosophical tract, to historical and cultural texts, that all elements flow together to create a book much greater than its parts. Whether we are grieving with Buckingham over the passing of his partner Elee or tagging along to attend a small village party in north-west Bulgaria to celebrate connections across generations, or learning the playful risks of refusing seconds from a stranger who’s invited you into their home (lest you get whacked with a cudgel), or perhaps putting prejudicial assumptions aside to dine with a Muslim family who daily invite people off the street to dine with them in order for the strangers to learn more their culture, the point is not to be afraid to step into each other’s lives to make that much-needed connection.
Paradoxically this might be thought easy enough in today’s world of the internet and social media platforms. Yet, as Buckingham, points out, with most of us living in cities nowadays and being quite close neighbours, the loneliness, the division, the disconnect is more prevalent than ever, and thanks to the pandemic, welcoming strangers has now become harder than ever.
Buckingham’s fluid writing style—effortlessly moving from youthful memory to Ancient Greek anecdote to mythic tale to real-life political situation of refugees and asylum seekers trying to cross the Turkish border by train—demonstrates his life spent as a world-class traveller, a vagabond eager to experience all manner of culture and people. Reading Hello, Stranger continually reminded me of the saying that the more one experiences the world and its great variety, the smaller it seems. Buckingham never mentions the word ‘agape,’ the Greek word for ‘unconditional love,’ preferring instead ‘xenophilia,’ but still he shows the importance strangers hold in his heart, for it is a hug from a stranger on the street, a campaigner for a breast cancer research (the same disease that Buckingham’s partner died from), that helped him to grieve and inspired this book. Ironically, the book comes full circle, the last chapter finishing with him enjoying a plate of food at a Bulgarian village street party while quietly admiring ‘an old lady sitting on a chair on her own, holding a stick. But she doesn’t look lonely. She stares at the crowd and she beams in happiness.’
Charles G. Lauder, Jr., is an American poet who has lived in Leicestershire, UK, for over twenty years. His latest collection is The Aesthetics of Breath (V. Press, 2019).