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For a sportswriter Mitch Albom has dealt with mortality in his two books. He broke the ranks of the book-published-author with Tuesdays with Morrie, the true account of his visits with a dying professor.
In The Five People You Meet in Heaven Mitch Albom wonders, "what would the afterlife be like?" This novel combines classical elements of the afterlife and combines them in a novel way. The cleansing of one's soul is similar to the River Styx in Greek mythology and Purgatory in Roman Catholic teaching. That five people meet Eddie before they can go on in their afterlife hearkens back to Clarence, the angel in It's a Wonderful Life. Mitch Albom isn't the first to try to ponder the afterlife.
Eddie is the maintenance man at Ruby Pier, an amusement park. We never really learn Eddie's last name (or maybe so late in the novel it's inconsequential?). But we learn that Eddie's uniform has two patches-one says "Eddie," the other says "Maintenance." Thus the children come to call him "Eddie Maintenance." Eddie never thought that was funny. But the kids often asked him to ride with them and he sometimes obliged, keeping his trained ears open to all the sounds each ride made.
The book begins on Eddie's 83rd birthday, which would be his last birthday and his last day on earth. He would be killed by a very ride he sought to keep safe, in an attempt to save the life of a little girl.
Once Eddie dies, he is visited by the first person he meets-the Blue Man who had been part of the park's "freak show" and once played cards with Eddie's dad. Unknown to Eddie, Eddie had contributed to the Blue Man's death. On earth as a youngster Eddie thought the Blue Man strange. But now he finds out why the Blue Man had such a strange pigmentation-a medication for nervousness gone awry. No one knew silver nitrate had potent powers. Eddie also learns from the Blue Man that he would be visited by a total of five people (sort of like Scrooge's visitors in A Christmas Carol).
In short order Eddie would be visited by his captain from World War II, Ruby (whose husband built Ruby Pier and named it for his wife), Eddie's wife Marguerite, and finally a little girl Eddie had inadvertently burned alive when escaping a POW camp.
Along the way Eddie learns that each person has their own heaven. The Blue Man found heaven at the amusement park, where he was accepted. Ruby had lived a glorious life, but she found heaven in the simple diner where she once worked and where she found her husband, Emile. The Captain finds heaven in the scenes from battle, but with guns silenced.
As we learn more about Eddie's life through the five people he meets, Mitch Albom also fills in important birthdays in Eddie's life. Marguerite especially loved to celebrate Eddie's birthday. And in meeting these five people, Eddie learns that he only burdened himself with resentments and bitterness. As Eddie meets his five hosts, he learns about those whom he felt wronged him. At the end he also learns about the power of forgiveness-from the little girl burned in a fire Eddie set at the POW camp.
While theologically I had some problems with the premise of the novel, I did find it enjoyable to read. It is engaging. And along the way we learn that we affect so many more people than we realize, just as we are affected by people whose affects who are unaware of. You will enjoy reading this book.
Purchase The Five People You Meet in Heaven from Amazon.com.