The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Mitch Albom, 2003
From the author of the phenomenal #1 New York Times bestseller Tuesdays with Morrie, a novel that explores the unexpected connections of our lives, and the idea that heaven is more than a place; it's an answer.
Eddie is a wounded war veteran, an old man who has lived, in his mind, an uninspired life. His job is fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, a tragic accident kills him as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination. It's a place where your life is explained to you by five people, some of whom you knew, others who may have been strangers.
One by one, from childhood to soldier to old age, Eddie's five people revisit their connections to him on earth, illuminating the mysteries of his "meaningless" life, and revealing the haunting secret behind. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—May 23, 1958
• Raised—Oaklyn, New Jersey
• Education—B.A., Brandeis University; M.J., Columbia
University; M.B.A., Columbia University
• Currently—lives in Detroit, Michigan
Mitchell David "Mitch" Albom is an American best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, dramatist, radio, television broadcaster and musician. His books have sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Having achieved national recognition for sports writing in the earlier part of his career, he is perhaps best known for the inspirational stories and themes that weave through his books, plays and films.
Mitch Albom was born May 23, 1958 in Passaic, New Jersey. He lived in Buffalo for a little bit but then settled in Oaklyn, New Jersey which is close to Philadelphia. He grew up in a small, middle-class neighborhood from which most people never left. Mitch was once quoted as saying that his parents were very supportive and always used to say, “Don’t expect your life to finish here. There’s a big world out there. Go out and see it.”
His older sister, younger brother and he himself, all took that message to heart and traveled extensively, His siblings are currently settled in Europe. Albom once mentioned that how his parents presently say, “Great. All our kids went and saw the world and now no one comes home to have dinner on Sundays.”
While living in New York, Albom developed an interest in journalism. Supporting himself by working nights in the music industry, he began to write during the day for the Queens Tribune, a weekly newspaper in Flushing, New York. His work there helped earn him entry into the Graduate School of Journalism. During his time there, to help pay his tuition he took work as a babysitter. In addition to nighttime piano playing, Albom took a part-time job with SPORT magazine.
Upon graduation, he freelanced in that field for publications such as Sports Illustrated, GEO, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and covered several Olympic sports events in Europe, paying his own way for travel and selling articles once he was there. In 1983, he was hired as a full-time feature writer for the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel, and eventually promoted to columnist. In 1985, having won that year’s Associated Press Sports Editors award for best Sports News Story, Albom was hired as lead sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press.
During his years in Detroit he became one of the most award-winning sports writers of his era; he was named best sports columnist in the nation a record 13 times by the Associated Press Sports Editors, and won best feature writing honors from that same organization a record seven times. No other writer has received the award more than once.
He has won more than 200 other writing honors from organizations including the National Headliner Awards, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, and National Association of Black Journalists. In 2010, Albom was awarded the APSE's Red Smith Award for lifetime achievement, presented at the annual APSE convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of his columns have been collected into a series of four anthologies—the Live Albom books—published from 1988-1995.
Albom's first non-anthology book was Bo: Life, Laughs, and the Lessons of a College Football Legend (1998), an autobiography of football coach Bo Schembechler co-written with the coach. The book became Albom's first New York Times bestseller.
Albom's next book was Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, The American Dream (1993), a look into the starters on the University of Michigan men's basketball team who, as freshman, reached the NCAA championship game in 1992 and again as sophomores in 1993. The book also became a New York Times bestseller.
Tuesdays with Morrie
Albom's breakthrough book came about after a friend of his viewed Morrie Schwartz's interview with Ted Koppel on ABC News Nightline in 1995, in which Schwartz, a sociology professor, spoke about living and dying with a terminal disease, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease).
Albom, who had been close with Schwartz during his college years at Brandeis, felt guilty about not keeping in touch so he reconnected with his former professor, visiting him in suburban Boston and eventually coming every Tuesday for discussions about life and death. Albom, seeking a way to pay for Schwartz's medical bills, sought out a publisher for a book about their visits. Although rejected by numerous publishing houses, the idea was accepted by Doubleday shortly before Schwartz's death, and Albom was able to fulfill his wish to pay off Schwartz's bills.
The book, Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) is a small volume that chronicles Albom's time spent with his professor. The initial printing was 20,000 copies. Word of mouth grew the book sales slowly and a brief appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" nudged the book onto the New York Times bestseller's list in October 1997. It steadily climbed, reaching the No. 1 position six months later. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 205 weeks. One of the top selling memoirs of all time, Tuesdays With Morrie has sold over 14 million copies and been translated into 41 languages.
Oprah Winfrey produced a television movie adaptation by the same name for ABC, starring Hank Azaria as Albom and Jack Lemmon as Morrie. It was the most-watched TV movie of 1999 and won four Emmy Awards. A two-man theater play was later co-authored by Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and opened Off Broadway in the fall of 2001, starring Alvin Epstein as Morrie and Jon Tenney as Albom.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Albom's next foray was in fiction with The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003). The book was a fast success and again launched Albom onto the New York Times bestseller list, selling over 10 million copies in 35 languages. In 2004, it was turned into a television movie for ABC, starring Jon Voight, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Imperioli, and Jeff Daniels. The film was critically acclaimed and the most watched TV movie of the year, with 18.6 million viewers.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven is the story of Eddie, a wounded war veteran who lives what he believes is an uninspired and lonely life fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, Eddie is killed while trying to save a little girl from a falling ride. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a location but a place in which your life is explained to you by five people who were in, who affected, or were affected by, your life.
Albom has said the book was inspired by his real life uncle, Eddie Beitchman, who, like the character, served during World War II in the Philippines, and died when he was 83. Eddie told Albom, as a child, about a time he was rushed to surgery and had a near-death experience, his soul floating above the bed. There, Eddie said, he saw all his dead relatives waiting for him at the edge of the bed. Albom has said that image of people waiting when you die inspired the book's concept.
For One More Day
Albom's third novel, For One More Day (2006), spent nine months on the New York Times bestseller list after debuting at the top spot. It also reached No. 1 on USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. It was the first book to be sold by Starbucks in the launch of the Book Break Program in the fall of 2006. It has been translated into 26 languages. On December 9, 2007, the ABC aired the 2-hour television event motion picture Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom's For One More Day, which starred Michael Imperioli and Ellen Burstyn. Burstyn received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her role as Posey Benetto.
For One More Day is “Chick” Benetto, a retired baseball player who, facing the pain of unrealized dreams, alcoholism, divorce, and an estrangement from his grown daughter, returns to his childhood home and attempts suicide. There he meets his long dead mother, who welcomes him as if nothing ever happened. The book explores the question, “What would you do if you had one more day with someone you’ve lost?”
Albom has said his relationship with his own mother was largely behind the story of that book, and that several incidents in For One More Day are actual events from his childhood.
Have a Little Faith
His first nonfiction book since Tuesdays was published, Have a Little Faith (2009) recounts Albom's experiences which led to him writing the eulogy for Albert L. Lewis, a Rabbi from his hometown in New Jersey. The book is written in the same vein as Tuesdays With Morrie, in which the main character, Mitch, goes through several heartfelt conversations with the Rabbi in order to better know and understand the man that he would one day eulogize. Through this experience, Albom writes, his own sense of faith was reawakened, leading him to make contact with Henry Covington, the African-American pastor of the I Am My Brother's Keeper church, in Detroit, where Albom was then living. Covington, a past drug addict, dealer, and ex-convict, ministered to a congregation of largely homeless men and women in a church so poor that the roof leaked when it rained. From his relationships with these two very different men of faith, Albom writes about the difference faith can make in the world.
The Time Keeper
Albom's third work of fiction, The Time Keeper (2012) is fablistic tale about the inventor of the world's first clock who is punished for trying to measure God's greatest gift. He is banished to a cave for centuries and forced to listen to the voices of all who come after him seeking more days, more years. Eventually, with his soul nearly broken, Father Time is granted his freedom, along with a magical hourglass and a mission: a chance to redeem himself by teaching two earthly people the true meaning of time.
The First Phone Call from Heaven
Albom's fourth work of fiction, The First Phone Call from Heaven (2013) tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife.
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Told from the point of view of the Spirit of Music, Albom's fifth novel (2015) traces the life of the legendary (and fictional) super guitarist Frankie Presto and his extraordinary impact on the music of his time.
Albom has founded a number of charitable organizations whose missions are to aid disadvantaged and homeless people. The groups have raised funds to pay for resuce services, youth programs, beds, kitchen, food, and daycare.
• The Dream Fund at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) was started by Albom in 1992. Its purpose is to provide funding for under-served children to participate in the arts and to instill confidence in our youth. Since its founding, CCS has used the Dream Fund to support visual, performing, summer “Week at a Time” youth scholarships, community art programs, and even the Detroit 300 project in 2001. The Dream Fund has raised over $115,000 in scholarships since its inception.
• S.A.Y. Detroit (which stands for Super All Year Detroit) is an umbrella organization for charities dedicated to improving the lives of the neediest—including A Time to Help, S.A.Y. Detroit Family Health Clinic, and A Hole in the Roof Foundation. S.A.Y. distributes money to shelters in Detroit for projects specifically designed to help the plight of those in need. Its projects to date include the building of a state-of-the-art kitchen at the Michigan Veterans Foundation shelter and a day-care center at COTS for children of homeless women
• A Time To Help was established in 1997 as a means of galvanizing the people of Detroit to volunteer on a regular basis. The group has staged more than 100 monthly projects ranging from building houses, delivering meals, beautifying city streets, running adoption fairs, repairing homeless shelters, packing food, and hosting an annual Christmas party to a shelter for battered women.
• A Hole in the Roof Foundation helps faith groups of any denomination, who care for the homeless, to repair the spaces in which they carry out their work and offer their services. The seed that gave root to the Foundation—and also inspired its name—is the I Am My Brother's Keeper church in Detroit, MI. Here, despite a gaping hole in the roof, and no matter how harsh the weather, the pastor tends to his community to provide spiritual nourishment and a sanctuary for the homeless. (Adapted from Wikiipedia. First retrieved 9/18/2013.)
Sincere.... A book with the genuine power to stir and comfort its readers.
Janet Maslin - The New York Times
There's much wisdom here.... An earnest meditation on the intrinsic value of human life.
Los Angeles Times
"At the time of his death, Eddie was an old man with a barrel chest and a torso as squat as a soup can," writes Albom, author of the bestselling phenomenon Tuesdays with Morrie, in a brief first novel that is going to make a huge impact on many hearts and minds. Wearing a work shirt with a patch on the chest that reads "Eddie" over "Maintenance," limping around with a cane thanks to an old war injury, Eddie was the kind of guy everybody, including Eddie himself, tended to write off as one of life's minor characters, a gruff bit of background color. He spent most of his life maintaining the rides at Ruby Pier, a seaside amusement park, greasing tracks and tightening bolts and listening for strange sounds, "keeping them safe." The children who visited the pier were drawn to Eddie "like cold hands to a fire." Yet Eddie believed that he lived a "nothing" life—gone nowhere he "wasn't shipped to with a rifle," doing work that "required no more brains than washing a dish." On his 83rd birthday, however, Eddie dies trying to save a little girl. He wakes up in heaven, where a succession of five people are waiting to show him the true meaning and value of his life. One by one, these mostly unexpected characters remind him that we all live in a vast web of interconnection with other lives; that all our stories overlap; that acts of sacrifice seemingly small or fruitless do affect others; and that loyalty and love matter to a degree we can never fathom. Simply told, sentimental and profoundly true, this is a contemporary American fable that will be cherished by a vast readership. Bringing into the spotlight the anonymous Eddies of the world, the men and women who get lost in our cultural obsession with fame and fortune, this slim tale, like Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, reminds us of what really matters here on earth, of what our lives are given to us for.... This wonderful title should grace national fiction bestseller lists for a long time.
Sports columnist, radio talk-show host, and author of Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom has written a parable quite different from his best-selling memoir about his old professor but with the potential to follow it as a favorite of the book club circuit. At an oceanside amusement part, 83-year-old maintenance mechanic Eddie is killed while trying to save a little girl. Instead of floating through the cliched tunnel-and-light territory, Eddie meets five people whose lives intersected with his during his time on Earth. The novel comes down firmly on the side of those who feel that life matters, that what we do as individuals matters, and that in the end there will be a quiz. The touchy-feely phobic need not be afraid: this is not judgmental ax-grinding; nor does it favor any religion. Before you finish reading, you can't help thinking about your own life—Albom's whole point, of course. Morrie fans will want to read this first novel, and readers daring to examine their own lives may enjoy as well. For all public libraries. —Mary K. Bird-Guilliams, Wichita P.L., KS.
1. At the start of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Albom says that "all endings are also beginnings." In general, what does this mean? How does it relate to this story in particular? Share something in your life that has begun as another thing ended, and the events that followed.
2. What initially grabs your attention in The Five People You Meet in Heaven? What holds it?
3. How does counting down the final minutes of Eddie's life affect you as a reader? Why does Albom do this? Other storytelling devices Albom uses include moving from past to present by weaving Eddie's birthdays throughout the story. How do these techniques help inform the story? What information do you learn by moving around in time? How effective is Albom's style for this story in particular?
4. What does Eddie look like and what kind of guy is he? Look at and discuss some of the details and descriptions that paint a picture of Eddie and his place of business. What is it about an amusement park that makes it a good backdrop for this story?
5. Consider the idea that "no story sits by itself. Sometimes stories meet at corners and sometimes they cover one another completely, like stones beneath a river." How does this statement relate to The Five People You Meet in Heaven?
6. How does Albom build tension around the amusement park ride accident? What is the significance of Eddie finding himself in the amusement park again after he dies? What is your reaction when Eddie realizes he's spent his entire life trying to get away from Ruby Pier and he is back there immediately after death? Do you think this is important? Why?
7. Describe what Albom's heaven is like. If it differs from what you imagined, share those differences. Who are the five people Eddie meets? Why them? What are their relationships to Eddie? What are the characteristics and qualities that make them the five people for Eddie?
8. Share your reactions and thoughts about the Blue Man's story, his relationship with his father, and his taking silver nitrate. What, if anything, does this have to do with Eddie? Why does he say to Eddie, "This is not your heaven, it's mine"?
9. How does the Blue Man die? What affect does it have on you when you look at the same story from two different points of view—his and Eddie's? Can you share any events that you have been involved in that can be viewed entirely differently, from another's point of view? How aware are we of other's experiences of events that happen simultaneously to us and to them? Why?
10. Discuss what it means that "That there are no random acts. That we are all connected. That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind." Even though Eddie hasn't been reincarnated, consider karma in Eddie's life (where Eddie's actions would affect his reincarnation). If it isn't karma, what is Albom telling us about life, and death?
11. Think about Eddie's war experiences and discuss your reactions to Albom's evocation of war. What did Eddie learn by being in war? How did he "come home a different man"? Why did the captain shoot Eddie? Explore what it means when the captain tells Eddie, "I took your leg to save your life." Why does the captain tell Eddie that sacrifice is not really a loss, but a gain? Examine whether or not Eddie understands this, and the significance of this lesson.
12. Discuss what you might say to Eddie when he asks "why would heaven make you relive your own decay?".
13. Examine whether or not you agree with the old woman when she tells Eddie, "You have peace when you make it with yourself," and why. Consider what she means when she says, "things that happen before you are born still affect you. And people who come before your time affect you as well." How does this relate to Eddie's life? Who are some who have come before you that have affected your own life?
14. What is Eddie's father's response each time Eddie decides to make an independent move, away from working at the pier? Examine how Eddie's father's choices and decisions actually shape Eddie's life. Why does Eddie cover for his father at the pier when his father becomes ill? What happens then? Share your own experience of a decision your own parents made that affected your life, for better or for worse.
15. Who tells Eddie that "we think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do we do to ourselves"? What is the significance of this particular person in Eddie's life? Why is this important for Eddie to understand? Is it important for all of us to understand? Why? Discuss whether or not you agree that, "all parents damage their children. It cannot be helped." How was Eddie damaged?
16. Why does Marguerite want to be in a place where there are only weddings? How does this relate to her own life, and to her relationship and life with Eddie?
17. Discuss why Eddie is angry at his wife for dying so young. Examine what Marguerite means when she says, "Lost love is still love. It takes a different form. You can't see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around on the dance floor. But when these senses waken, another heightens. . . . Life has an end. Love doesn't." Why does she say this to Eddie? Do you think he gets it? Discuss whether or not you agree with her, and why.
18. Why does Eddie come upon the children in the river? What does Tala mean when she says "you make good for me"? Discuss whether or not Eddie's life is a penance, and why. What is the significance of Tala pulling Eddie to safety after he dies? Why is it Tala that pulls him to heaven and not one of the other four?
19. What would you say to Eddie when he laments that he accomplished nothing with his life? Discuss what has he accomplished.
20. Briefly recall the five lessons Eddie learns. How might these be important for all of us? Share which five people might meet you in heaven, and what additional or different lessons might be important to your life. Discuss how Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven has provided you with a different perspective of your life.
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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