Literary Lens: “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”
There are few books as hauntingly beautiful as Mitch Albom’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” An author known for his exquisite examinations of life, death and love, Albom has written many excellent and successful novels, but this one will always hold a special place in my heart.
I picked the book up from the library years ago, and as I opened the cover and began to read, I honestly wasn’t expecting much. Knowing only that it was a book about some old man and his afterlife, the concept failed to intrigue me. However, as I began to read, more out of boredom than interest, I was quickly wrapped up in the novel. This book became one of my all-time favorite stories, and I believe that anyone who gives it a chance can feel that connection due to Albom’s extraordinary story, creative characters and touching prose.
The novel begins with the main character, Eddie, a crippled veteran who works in an amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, Eddie tries to save a little girl when a ride malfunctions, but at the cost of his own life. The subsequent story follows Eddie as he goes to heaven and meets five people, all chosen to show him new things about the life he lived and to teach him lessons about his past actions.
The book transcends time as it shows the connections between Eddie’s life—people he thought he knew—and complete strangers. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, I think that most people’s concept of heaven is that you spend the rest of eternity with loved ones from your time on Earth. Albom takes this in an entirely new direction by introducing Eddie to five people, most of whom he didn’t even know, but who played instrumental roles in his life as he did in theirs—for better or for worse. Albom makes his point very clear: “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.”
Essentially, Albom’s novel provides ideas about a common question—if there is an afterlife, with whom do we spend it? By showing readers the chain of people who Eddie affected unintentionally, Albom gives us the answer to a much more relevant question—what happens after death does not matter as much as our actions during our lives. Eddie finds this out the hard way, when he witnesses after the fact how insignificant actions in his life had the power to irrevocably disrupt the lives of others around him.
No matter what your beliefs, this novel has a strong unifying factor that makes it appealing across genders, ages and other defining factors. While it is a story of sadness and loss, it is also a story with an air of positivity, and it shows the interwoven elements of humanity. The heartbreaking and graceful messages of this story are paired with Albom’s elegant prose. The story’s metaphors and bits of advice could almost border on cheesy if offered by a less talented author. It is truly a special novel.