‘All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time…’
On his eighty-third birthday, Eddie, a lonely war veteran, dies in a tragic accident trying to save a little girl from a falling cart. With his final breath, he feels two small hands in his – and then nothing. He awakens in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a lush Garden of Eden but a place where your earthly life is explained to you by five people who were in it. These people may have been loved ones or distant strangers. Yet each of them changed your path forever.
First published: 2003
A friend of mine got me The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom as a birthday present over a year ago, and I finally got around to reading it this summer. Once I’d started reading I finished the book within three days, because it’s just one of those books that makes you want to keep on reading.
The opening chapter of The Five People You Meet in Heaven is called “The End”, and it depicts the last hour of Eddie’s life. For 83-year-old Eddie it’s just another day at work at Ruby Pier, an amusement park set by the ocean — until everythings ends abruptly when he tries to save a little girl and gets killed by a falling cart from “Freddy’s Free Fall” (I’m going to ignore the irony here). Eddie goes to heaven, but it’s not the kind of heaven he expected. In this heaven he meets five different people who’ve all had some kind of impact on his life, and who have died before he did. They have been waiting in their little corner of heaven for him to arrive, and they all have something to teach him about his life before he can move on to his own place in heaven.
I loved this book, and one of the things I especially liked is the way the novel is structured. After Eddie dies, his experiences and conversations in heaven are interspersed with small chapters that are all called “Today Is Eddie’s Birthday” and document different birthdays throughout Eddie’s life. This way you get to know more and more about Eddie and what his life was like. The way Albom gives just a tidbit of information at a time shows so much skill, and that is exactly what made me want to keep on reading. I became intrigued by this old, grumpy man, and I wanted to know what happened to him in life that made him the person he is when he comes to heaven.
Portraying any idea of heaven in a novel can be tricky, since it might be a sensitive subject with some people. Plus, I think it is important for authors to avoid writing a sermon instead of a fictional story. Albom did a pretty good job at that, in my opinion. This is partly due to the dedication:
“[…]Everyone has an idea of heaven, as do most religions, and they should all be respected. The version represented here is only a guess, a wish, in some ways, that my uncle, and others like him–people who felt unimportant here on earth–realize, finally, how much they mattered and how they were loved.”
Albom makes it clear he just wants to write his story, and that this doesn’t mean other people’s ideas are of less value. I think it’s important that he chose to include this in his dedication because without it the reader might find the book a bit too moralistic. There is still the chance of that for it’s not just a story about Eddie, but it also features a lot of what you might call one liner life lessons:
“The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone”
“Strangers are just family you have yet to come to know.”
These lessons are part of the story, it’s why Eddie is meeting these five people in heaven, but I can see why it might put people off a little bit. I read this book during a time in my life when those one liners made me feel better and consoled me. However, had I been in one of my more cynical moods while reading this, they might have gotten an eye roll or two from me.
I loved Eddie’s story, including the one liners, and I recommend The Five People You Meet in Heaven to anyone who sometimes struggles with what it’s all about (yes, that’s vague, but it’s meant to be vague), or anyone who’s just looking for something wonderful to read on a rainy (or sunny) Sunday afternoon.