The Unofficial Good Turn Society

By Francis Buhagiar

Published by Austin Macauley Publishers, 2021

A distinct type of writing with kindness at the heart has emerged in recent years to comfort, uplift and inspire readers. Art is a mirror of its time, and books in this increasingly popular genre reflect the zeitgeist of a revitalised humanity that has arisen in response to COVID-19.

The Unofficial Good Turn Society by Francis Buhagiar is one such book and is in the good company of The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.  

The Unofficial Good Turn Society is made up of an unwitting membership of characters, each of whom is a link in a chain of acts of kindness. This original book is a beautiful illustration of how even the smallest gesture may generate a ripple effect which brings manifold returns. 

The kindnesses include small acts such as closing a dentist’s waiting room door quietly, holding a nervous stranger’s hand on a bumpy flight, and larger ones such as a boy in Lisbon selling his toys to help a music teacher buy more instruments and a nurse giving a retiring street cleaner a hamper of treats to take back to his family in Uganda.

The story starts in rural England where six swallows dance for a girl who feels luck is against her. The story proceeds on its journey around the world in the form of a domino effect, sweeping through Africa, Australia, Asia, America, the Middle East and Europe, ultimately returning to offices of the highest power in London. 

Even the smallest gesture may generate a ripple effect which brings manifold returns. Photo: Shutterstock.ComEven the smallest gesture may generate a ripple effect which brings manifold returns. Photo: Shutterstock.Com

The characters in this book are not heroes. They are normal people, each with their own story. Herein lies the book’s charm – it is relatable and shows how all of us have our own agency.

Buhagiar’s original style is neither prose nor poetry.  His words are arranged on the page almost like a script of the character’s inner thoughts. He uses words sparingly and with a few strokes creates a powerful intimacy with each person. Each short chapter is a vignette, written in the present tense. This immediacy moves the reader on apace, yet we feel that we have perfectly understood that person for that moment. 

Buhagiar himself is of Maltese heritage and a good part of the book is set here in Malta, with stories of sea turtle conservation at Golden Bay, pastizzi making in Żebbuġ and church cleaning at St Philip of Agira.

The Unofficial Good Turn Society will be a welcome addition to everyone’s bedside library. It gladdens the heart and reminds us of our common goodness.

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