The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom

Hyperion, 2003

I haven’t read Tuesdays with Morrie, so if you’re a fan, I have no comparisons about how this measures up to that. What I will say about this one, though, is that it’s lovely.  From the very first word in the dedication (which is fabulous!), to the very last scene, The Five People You Meet in Heaven  is an arresting image of life after death.

The story is about Eddie, an elderly man who dies within the first chapter of the book. How does he die? Get this – a freak amusement park ride accident. Next thing you know, he’s in Heaven, meeting a lineup of people who’ve been waiting around to talk to him since they’ve died. Once they do, they get to ‘move on’, just as Eddie does once he’s learned his lesson from them. Sound hokey? It’s not. (If you want to talk about hokey storylines that involve dead people in Heaven, talk to me about Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Whereas that book centred around a girl wishing she could be back on Earth with her family, this one is about a man who’s actually accepting of his own death. Okay – maybe the difference is the fact that all of Eddie’s family is there in Heaven, but at least his denial phase doesn’t go on half the book.) So what about these five people you meet in Heaven? Turns out they help you make sense of your life on Earth, so that you can live in peace thereafter. They don’t necessarily have to have known you personally, either. Albom does a great job of showing how everyone on the planet is ultimately related in some way – a six degrees of separation -type thing. The interesting thing is that Albom managed to tell the story in a way that reflects this concept. Each chapter takes on a different tone or style, and it’s never completely consecutive. Yet it works, because they all come together in one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Bits that could have felt choppy played off each other quite harmoniously – evidence of a talented writer. The book itself is short – you can read it in a day, easy. But I thought I’d let the author’s voice speak for itself in telling you whether or not you should read it:

“Time,” the Captain said, “is not what you think.” He sat down next to Eddie. “Dying? Not the end of everything. We think it is. But what happens on earth is only the beginning.”

Eddie looked lost.

“I figure it’s like in the Bible, the Adam and Eve deal?” the Captain said. “Adam’s first night on earth? When he lays down to sleep? He thinks it’s all over, right? He doesn’t know what sleep is. His eyes are closing and he thinks he’s leaving this world, right?

“Only he isn’t. He wakes up the next morning and he has a fresh new world to work with, but he has something else, too. He has his yesterday.”

The Captain grinned. “The way I see it, that’s what we’re getting here, soldier. That’s what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterdays.” (pp. 91-2)

Nicely put, Captain. Ain’t that what we all hope it is.

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