No story sits by itself. Sometimes stories meet at corners and sometimes they cover one another completely, like stones beneath a river.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom, (p11)
The five people you meet in heaven is a book about a surly old American man who, well, dies and meets five important people from his past when he gets to heaven. Through these people’s stories, we see how Eddie became the crotchety old man that we meet at the start of the book.
It shares two things in common with Londonstani (yeah, weird, I know): it has the feeling of a parable and it has a plot twist towards the end. The difference is, by the time the plot twist appears, and the moral of the story has been delivered, I was invested in the story and in the main character. It became a powerful part of the book, instead of bit of a cheap thrill.
When we meet Eddie, he’s an 83 year-old fair ride maintenance guy. He’s an odd mixture of kind and bitter and that can be alienating. One of the good things about this book is it takes someone who is easy to dismiss (a fractious elderly person who keeps to himself) and takes you on a tour of what made them who they are.
The characters he meets throughout the story offer a window into his life when they were in it. We get to see him as a child, as a soldier, as a husband and son. By the end of the book it really feels like you’ve shared his life story, which is quite an achievement for a book that’s just over 200 pages long.
Some may consider it trite, but I like the way the book shows how people can become consumed by negativity. The way someone spoke to them as a child, the indifference of a parent, the guilt that they carry for making a terrible mistake and the way they attribute every bad thing that happens to them as some sort of cosmic karma. This is happening to my family because I’m a bad person for making that decision 20 years ago.
All of that mess is very human, and Eddie struggles with shedding this burden throughout the book.
Most of the story is told in flashback scenes that encompass much of Eddie’s 83 years. Over that time he meets a range of people, and all of them come to life in the pages.
It’s easy to think that each of these people simply exist to teach Eddie a lesson about himself – you don’t really get much of an idea about these characters outside of why they are important to Eddie’s story – but it’s part of the core concept of the book. The idea that, when you die, five people – that your life has impacted in some way – will be waiting to have a chat with you about it. All of these people had five people of their own, and you will also be one of someone else’s five people.
It’s basically an odd mixture of A Christmas Carol and the Butterfly Effect theory.
I can see why some people see it as a self-help book, but to me it was just a heart-warming story about a guy coming to terms with what his life had been. It’s a book that everyone needs to read.