The Five People You Meet In Heaven Summary

Mitch Albom

The Five People You Meet In Heaven

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The Five People You Meet In Heaven Summary

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a 2003  spiritual fiction novel by American author and journalist Mitch Albom. The second book and first novel by Albom, it is a tale of the afterlife, following an elderly man who dies in his job as a carnival maintenance man and finds himself in a heaven where five significant people from the journey of his life greet him one by one. Each of these five people represents a turning point in Eddie’s life, and each brings with them a theme that unfolds over the course of their vignette. The Five People You Meet in Heaven was a worldwide best-seller and remained on The New York Times Best Seller List for 95 weeks. In 2004, it was made into a made-for-TV movie starring Jon Voight, which stayed largely faithful to the original book.

The story begins with an elderly man named Eddie working in his job as the head of maintenance at an amusement park called Ruby Pier. Despite his advanced age – he is turning 83 today – and a crippling leg injury he sustained during his service in World War II, he still performs his job admirably. As he gets to work on his birthday, one of the amusement park rides malfunctions, a cable getting jammed by a car key getting stuck in the gear. After the ride is evacuated, the staff is about to release the mechanism, and Eddie notices that the car will detach. He sees a little girl named Amy or Annie in the spot that the car is about to make impact, races towards her and pushes her out of the way with all the strength he has. He feels a little girl’s hands in his as there’s an exploding impact, and then nothing.

Eddie awakes, finding himself uninjured. He notices he’s much younger, and is greeted by a man known as the Blue Man. This mysterious man with bright blue skin tells Eddie that he’s dead and will now make his way through the five levels of heaven, each time meeting a person who had a significant impact on his life. In each stage, he will feel exactly as he did when he knew the person he is meeting. Eddie doesn’t remember the Blue Man, and the Blue Man – whose real name is Joseph Corvelzchik, a man whose skin was turned blue by silver nitrate poisoning as a child leading him to work in a circus sideshow – reveals that he died when he swerved to avoid a young Eddie in his car. Without the Blue Man’s actions, Eddie never would have lived beyond childhood. The first theme of the Eddie’s journey is revealed to be that there are no random events in life. All experiences and people are connected in some way.

Eddie moves on to the second level, where he meets his former captain from the army. Eddie finds himself back in the forced labor camp where he served a chunk of the war alongside his Captain. Eddie is haunted by his memories of the war, including when the platoon made their escape and burned down the camp in the process. Eddie has always been convinced he saw a shadow of someone in the hut he burned. The Captain confesses that he was the one who shot Eddie in the leg to keep Eddie from running into the fire after the shadow. This saved Eddie’s life, but left him with a lifelong disability that Eddie has always believed kept him from rising above his abusive father’s old position at Ruby Pier. The Captain reveals how he died – scouting out ahead for land mines so the men could escape safely. As the labor camp clears to reveal a beautiful nature landscape, and the Captain is seen for the first time without the dirt and grime of war on his face, Eddie moves on to the third heaven with the Captain’s message: the importance of people’s willingness to make sacrifices for each other, both big and small.

Eddie next finds himself in a snowdrift, although the snow is oddly not cold. He approaches a diner and sees his father inside. His father doesn’t seem to notice him, but a well-dressed woman does. She reveals that she once worked at the diner, and Ruby Pier was named after her by her husband. She’s styled this portion of heaven as a refuge for anyone who’s been hurt by Ruby Pier, which took her husband away from her. Eddie’s father was a cruel and abusive man, and Ruby is here to help Eddie move on from the anger and hatred he has towards his father. She shows him another side of his father, one who would do anything to protect his family, and once risked his own life to save a man’s life even after the man attempted to force himself on Eddie’s mother. This led to the illness that killed him. Ruby tells Eddie that he needs to let go of his anger, because hatred is a deadly weapon that hurts both the hated and the hater. As Eddie takes in the third theme, he moves on to another heaven.

Eddie now wakes up in a room with several doors. Behind each door is a wedding from a different culture, and in one of those doors he finds his late wife Marguerite. The two spend a long time together, reminiscing as Eddie catches her up on all that’s happened since she died. He apologizes for never making more of his life, and she tells him that she loved their life together. Eddie says that all he would have changed is for them to have more time together. They talk about her love for weddings and they reminisce about their own unusual wedding, held on the rented top floor of a Chinese restaurant. Even all these years later, Eddie kept the menu from that restaurant. As Eddie reflects on what Marguerite has taught him, that love is never diminished, even by death itself, he drifts off to sleep.

Eddie awakes to the fifth and final scene, where he finds himself by a riverbed where a young Filipina girl named Tala waves to him. As they communicate, Eddie is horrified to discover that she is the little girl who burned to death in the hut he set on fire decades ago. Her skin transforms to reflect the burns she endured, and Eddie breaks down, begging for God’s forgiveness. Tala asks him to wash her skin off with a stone, and as he does, Tala’s skin becomes clear and unscarred again. Eddie asks her if he was able to save the little girl he gave up his life to rescue, and Tala reveals that he did push her out of the way. It was Tala’s hands Eddie felt as he died, not the little girl’s. Tala teaches Eddie that there was a purpose to his life, and he did atone for her unnecessary death. At the end of Eddie’s journey, he is shown a vision of all the many people he saved along the years by his maintenance work, and the future generations that will exist because of him. And it is revealed that a long time down the line, when the little girl who Eddie saved passes on, Eddie will be waiting for her as one of the five people she will meet in heaven.

Mitch Albom rocketed to fame and success with his first book, Tuesdays With Morrie, a non-fiction memoir which chronicled his friendship with his elderly former professor who was dying of ALS at the time. He is also a successful sports journalist, writing an autobiography of football coach Bo Schembelcher and a chronicle of the 1992 University of Michigan Basketball team’s unlikely success in the NCAA tournament. Since breaking into the world of fiction, he has written an additional five novels, most dealing with themes of mortality and spirituality. He is also a sportscaster, playwright (penning the adaptation of Tuesdays With Morrie as well as two original comedies), and songwriter. He is the founder of The Dream Fund, a scholarship that provides arts education to disadvantaged children. His books have sold over 35 million copies worldwide.