By Mitch Ablom
Review by Chase Vialpando
Humans are unique creatures in that we, unlike other organisms, know we will eventually die. Whether it happens in our eighties or in our twenties, our lives are knowingly finite. While none can dispute this lingering fact, there are no shortage of theories on what happens after death.
Mitch Albom tackles this universal question in The Five People You Meet in Heaven, a book of discovery, hindsight, and love. Published in 2003 by Hyperion Books, this story follows Eddie, an old, semi-crippled war veteran who has lost interest and meaning in his life, often reminiscing about better times. Like his late father before him, Eddie is a reluctant maintenance man at Ruby Pier, an amusement park where he grew up. Eddie trudges through each day greasing, repairing, and overseeing rides, as he has done for most of his life. He regrets not finding a different life for himself after the war, and feels as though he serves little purpose in his seemingly insignificant life. After a ride malfunctions and tragedy strikes on his 83rd birthday, Eddie is killed trying to save a little girl. However, this is when the tale truly begins as “All endings are also beginnings” (Albom). Eddie finds himself in the colorful, mystical first stage of heaven, where all of his physical pains have dissolved. His once bum knee is healed, his back no longer aches, and his muscles feel rubbery like a child’s. Despite this, Eddie still feels all the doubt, anger, and regret he felt in life. Soon, he learns he will meet five people from his life that will teach him a different lesson about his life and its impact. Through these encounters, Eddie is given the gift of hindsight and learns about the nature of decisions, and that “There are no random acts” (Albom). Eddie knew some of these people in life, such as his commanding officer that was killed in an overseas war, but some are complete strangers, such as the founder of Ruby Pier. Regardless of Eddie’s perception of these people, they each show Eddie his life from a different perspective, whether this be how others perceived him, or how his actions influenced greater events. As Eddie meets each of these five spirit guides, we learn more about his past and his regrets.
Albom alternates chapters between Eddie’s experiences in heaven with scenes from his life. From this, we get a glimpse into various, scattered birthdays of Eddie and learn details about his life. We learn he had an estranged relationship with his stern father, and harbored feelings of envy for his brother. We experience Eddie falling in love and then losing it. We learn just how Eddie became stuck in his job at the Ruby pier, and about his deep regret for never doing anything that he saw as important in his life. As Eddie learns each lesson, he sees just how all lives intersect, and how even the most mundane of lives serve a greater purpose than anybody can imagine.
This tale offers a universal and uplifting message to all who may read it. With each new page, it becomes difficult not to identify with Eddie in some way. While there are brutal scenes from Eddie’s life, such as his time in the war or one of his scarring encounters with his alcoholic father, we are also taken to the tender and loving times in Eddie’s life, getting a glimpse into Eddie meeting the love of his life, Marguerite, and a tour through their warm marriage. Even after learning about Marguerite’s eventual death, one can’t help but feel the resonating passion between the two.
Albom wraps readers into his world, and his notion of heaven as a sentimental classroom, with every word. Through his simple yet sentimental writing style, Albom creates a story everybody can relate to in some way. More than this, Albom offers an uplifting guide on how to approach and consider one’s life.