When I finished the last page of Mitch Albom's TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, I knew I had to share the book with as many people as I could. I proceeded to buy 41 copies, inscribe them all to my friends and family members, hand them out, mail them --- whatever I had to do to spread the word. The book was that moving, in my opinion. So I was eagerly looking forward to THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN and I am happy to report that Albom did not disappoint me. He is a first-rate storyteller, and THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN is an imaginative, creative tale in the tradition of the best fairy tales or folklore.
Eddie is a maintenance man who keeps the rides safe at the Ruby Pier amusement park. His 83rd birthday seems like any other day --- he inspects the rides, watches the people, makes pipe cleaner animals for the children. However on this day he dies unexpectedly, trying to rescue a young girl in harm's way.
Eddie wakes up in heaven --- but not to the "paradise garden, a place where (we) can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains," not the idyllic place that heaven has been described as throughout time. Eddie awakens to a series of introductions --- or reintroductions --- to five people whom he had met during his life, either in passing or at length. They each carry answers to the whys and hows of Eddie's life. With each meeting he relives in part that time of his life, but now the gaps are filled in. For maybe the first time he sees what REALLY happened. "There are five people you meet in heaven," the Blue Man, Eddie's first encounter, explains. "Each of us was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for. For understanding your life on earth."
All five are of course deceased, and they all impart knowledge of Eddie's life and life in general. For instance, the Blue Man asks, "Why do people gather when others die," and his explanation is at the very core of the meaning of Albom's book: "It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn't just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed lives are changed." It is insights like these that leave the reader asking, "What does Mitch Albom know that we don't?"
What he knows is that we all seek answers. We look for meaning behind the experiences in our lives. More often than not, we never get the answers but we continue --- we plod on, happy or unhappy, fulfilled or unfulfilled, pain-free or in pain. We live. Albom doesn't pretend to offer us the answers, but he does offer us an almost Taoist interpretation of life. It is. It just is. The answers may never be revealed. And do they need to be?
THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN is a beautiful story. Eddie is human and likable for his foibles, fears and faults. The writing is often lyrical and fable-like. And though the book is fiction, behind it lies Albom's lifelong love of his uncle, which lends a tenderness and intimacy to the tale on par with TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. You'll want to share this with your friends, family, acquaintances, and even those nameless people you pass on the street who may have played a larger role in your life than you ever could have imagined.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on April 6, 2003
The Five People You Meet in Heaven