Mitch Albom

"The Five People You Meet in Heaven"

(reviewed by Hagen Baye JAN 25, 2004)

Eddie dies in a horrific accident at Ruby Pier, the amusement park where at the age of 83 he is head of maintenance. A car of the Freddy Free Fall ride comes crashing down upon him as he rushes to save a young girl from its path.

Eddie is killed and goes to heaven. There, he learns that he must first encounter five different persons from whom he will learn something about the meaning of his life. For Eddie this includes his army captain, his wife and others with whom he had some significant encounter, the respective significance of which were not evident to Eddie at the time they occurred.

Read excerptEddie feels that he has not achieved anything in his life. His dream to become an engineer was dashed by war injuries and the responsibilities that befell him at the time of his father's final illness and death. His war experiences and leg injury darkened his view of life and sapped it of joy. The depression that enveloped him was incomprehensible to his father and led to their estrangement. On top of everything else, he lost his loving, all-accepting wife when she was a mere 47, leaving him alone for the last 35 years of his life. He had a low opinion of himself, his work and the life that he led.

Yet, Eddie was a good man, who was very good to his family and his wife. His estrangement from his father was largely his father's doing. His dad was neglectful of him as a child and misinterpreted his post-war depression as laziness. Eddie covered for his dad at the park when his dad was ill and unable to work, working his dad's shift after driving his own shift as a cab driver. Eddie was a conscientious and meticulous worker. He was good to the kids at the park and they liked him. Just moments before his death, Eddie gave the two $20's in his wallet to a co-worker for the fellow's wife's birthday.

From each of the five persons the late Eddie encounters in turn, he learns something different about himself and its significance to his life and about life itself. He is awakened to his own worth and the value of his life. He learns about the interrelationship of all lives, about sacrifice, the everlasting value of love, the poisonness of lingering anger and, finally, about how his daily hum-drum, tedious daily routine had in fact fulfilled his life's intended purpose of keeping Ruby Pier's rides safe, and a source of joy, for generations of children.

Albom's story is a touching one, without being sappy or overly sentimental. Some may think it as sort of New Age piousity, but such characterization would be an injustice to the book. Albom does not purport to have had a vision or some special inspiration, divine or otherwise. Albom says his portrayal of heaven is based on a "guess" or "wish" and that the point of the story is to assist those like the Eddie in the book and Albom's real-life uncle, also named Eddie (to whom the book is dedicated), who feel their lives unimportant, to realize that their lives really have an importance, a tremendous value and are worthy of appreciation. The value of his fable-like story is the insights it imparts about life and the meaning of sacrifice. It can be said to be of the same mold as The Greatest Generation, that peon of praise to the World War II generation, of which both Albom's fictional and real Uncle Eddie were certainly a part.

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About the Author:

Mitch AlbomMitch Albom is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Detroit Free Press and a nationally syndicated radio host of his own show. Albom has also been named the top sports columnist in the nation 13 times by the Associated Press Sports Editors of America -- the highest honor in his field. He is the founder of The Dream Fund, a charity which helps underprivileged youth study art, and of A Time to Help, a volunteer program. Albom serves on the boards of numerous charities. On the fun side, he is a member of The Rock Bottom Remainders a rock band who are authors for their day job.

He lives with his wife in Michigan. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014