The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom – Book Review

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, copyright 2003.

Publisher: Hyperion

Pages: 196

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: Recommendation from my best friend.

Up until now, I had managed to get by without reading anything by Mitch Albom. I had noticed his books in the shop, but hesitated about purchasing any of them. I am always a little wary of Christian fiction, worried that it will be too preachy or lacking in depth. All of the Christian fiction I have read to date has been recommended by friends, The Five People You Meet in Heaven was no exception. Earlier this year I talked my best-friend into reading one of my favourite books, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and she loved it (or so she told me at least) so I wanted to give one of her favourite authors a try.

Eddie is the maintenance manager for the amusement park at Ruby Pier and has been since he was injured in the war. It is not the forever he had dreamed of, but life has a tendency of interfering with our dreams and placing us in unexpected situations. Today is Eddie’s 83rd birthday. It also happens to be his last day on Earth. When his number comes up, Eddie wakes up to a very different sort of heaven than the one he had envisioned. He isn’t met by pearly gates or the smiling face of God, but rather by a funny looking man with blue skin. It turns out this man is someone whose life was affected by Eddie when he was younger. After a brief explanation of his presence, the man attempts to give Eddie a lesson on the interconnectivity of all life. He explains further that Eddie will encounter four other people in heaven, each of whom have a different lesson for him. After his five lessons, he will go on to wait for other people to get to heaven and will help in teaching them lessons.

Thankfully, this was not a preachy read, but it was really lacking in depth. The topics that were brought up in the story (i.e. forgiveness and sacrifice) were very deep topics, but they weren’t at all fleshed out. Eddie meets each person, they tell him a story that lasts three or four pages, and then they disappear. In this short time Eddie is supposed to have ingested what they have had to say and taken heed of their words. The book is less than 200 pages in length and there are five lessons. You can easily do the math to determine the velocity of the plot, which has, rolled into it, extra tidbits of what is happening on Earth sans Eddie.

As a result of the quick pace, I simply didn’t get a very good sense of who Eddie was. They try packing his 80-some-odd-years of life into less than 200 pages, much of which is dialogue. I got a different sense of who Eddie was from each person, but, in the end, didn’t have any clearer sense of who the man was. It was also just a little too convenient that Eddie immediately understands the lesson each person is trying to teach him and is freed of whatever burden he has been carrying. This was a little too neat and tidy for my tastes. I mean, I get that he is in heaven and anything can happen in heaven, but Eddie’s life was a complicated one and the five people seem to trivialize it awfully quickly.

I don’t want to give this book an entirely bad rap. Albom certainly writes very well and does a great job of keeping his audience engaged. He doesn’t fill his pages with fancy prose or laborious, monotonous detail. I easily flew through the book in a day finding myself pulled into the story; I needed to know what happened next. I also liked that Albom didn’t shy away from difficult elements. He doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of things, but he isn’t afraid to reveal the naked truths of tragedy.

“Her skin was horribly burned. Her torso and narrow shoulders were black and charred and blistered. When she turned around, the beautiful, innocent face was covered in grotesque scars. Her lips drooped. Only one eye was open. Her hair was gone in patches of burned scalp, covered now by hard, mottled scabs.” The Five People You Meet in Heaven, page 189.

All in all I wasn’t particularly impressed. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to a select audience, but I don’t think I could be convinced to try Mitch Albom again.

RATING: Meh

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About Robbie

Hi there, my name is Robbie Burns (no,really, that’s my name…hold the haggis jokes please) and I would like to welcome you to the Pink Sheep Cafe. I started this blog as a means of discussing books and all things literary in light of my perpetual isolation. At the time I began writing, I was living in Split, Croatia. There wasn’t much here in the way of English book clubs and I couldn’t work, so I badly needed something to help me bide my time. My partner and I have since left Croatia and returned to Canada to live in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. When we first moved back here, my blog writing sort of fell by the wayside, but now I seem to be back on track. I try to read and review a little bit of everything here; I think everyone can find something to their liking here. I find myself tending more towards more literary reads these days, but I also enjoy a lot of YA and children’s fiction. One of my ongoing goals is to work my way through all of the Nobel Laureates. My two most favorite authors are Timothy Findley and Halldor Laxness.
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4 Responses to The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom – Book Review

  1. Yvann says:

    I definitely agree with you about the pace of the book and that it is all just a bit neat…

    Didn’t really see it as specifically Christian or religious fiction, particularly as religion didn’t feature in Eddie’s everyday life, so I am intrigued that you have pulled this thread out.

    I found the prose a bit on the sparse side, but like you, flew through it and Albom certainly has his moments (I thought it was a lovely touch to have the little girl be his last person).

    I will have to give Oscar Wao a go!

  2. My mom loved this book. For some people, reading is only accessory to getting “lessons”, like in a fast food store is accessory for taste and instant satisfaction. To me, short books like this sound like they’ve been made to be sold. Like a quick fix potions. But hey, that’s just my judgmental self.

  3. leeswammes says:

    I know lots of people loved this book but I didn’t at all. I think for the same reasons as you (but it’s too long ago to remember exactly). I think I didn’t even finish it. If I did, I skimmed to the end.

  4. I’m not a fan of Mich Albom either. I find him too sentimental.

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