Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Author: Mitch Albom
ISBN # 0751536822

Publisher: Time Warner

First Published: 2003

231 pages

Eddie is a grizzled war veteran who feels trapped in a meaningless life of fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. As the park has changed over the years - from the Loop-the-Loop to the Pipeline Plunge - so, too, has Eddie changed, from optimistic youth to embittered old age. His days are a dull routine of work, loneliness, and regret. Then, on his 83rd birthday, Eddie 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. One by one, Eddie's five people illuminate the unseen connections of his earthly life. As the story builds to its stunning conclusion, Eddie desperately seeks redemption in the still-unknown last act of his life: Was it a heroic success or a devastating failure? The answer, which comes from the most unlikely of sources, is as inspirational as a glimpse of heaven itself.

At first glance, I thought this would either be deeply depressing or incredibly deep; it turned out I was wrong on both counts. This is actually a very light, easy read, with a gentle style and a positive outlook on both life and death, which ultimately shows that every life, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time, impacts on every life touched. Presented in dual form as a “diary” of Eddie’s various birthdays and lessons learned in the afterlife, this is a novel that is easily read in small bites and each section flows organically into the next. The birthday chapters give more in-depth background to the main character’s life and the frustration he felt at “never getting anywhere”, whereas the lesson chapters explain the twists and turns of his life and add a little more reason and a feeling of completeness to each section.

It’s not a terribly deep book (everything seems to be on the surface level – all laid out for the reader who doesn’t have to figure anything out for themselves), but it’s a very gentle book that seems to speed by (it’s not terribly long, either). It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is and that’s rather refreshing.

All in all, it’s a very pleasant way to pass a summer’s afternoon in the garden.

(The Five People You Meet in Heaven was made into a Hallmark film, starring Jon Voigt and Emy Aneke, in 2003).

Rating: 7


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