Friday, February 25, 2005

The Five People You Meet in Heaven: A Review

When we die, we meet five people whom we might have known in life. They give us a tour of different places where we might have encountered or met them. And then, they explain to us five different memories of our lives and aid us to have our questions answered – why we lived and what we lived for. This is the fictional frame where Mitch Ablom paints the story of Eddie, an 83-year old circus maintenance man, who died in a freak accident when a cable snapped in a carnival ride called Freddy’s Free Fall, and a cart fell on Eddie as he tried to save a girl from it. More details here.

I have to admit when I read about the initial success of this book, I scoffed at it (and wrongly so) as an artistic flop. Ever since I read Da Vinci Code, I vowed never to believe that those books in the New York Times bestseller list are worth my while. But my personal encounters with the metaphysical world have got me itching to read this book for weeks, until one day, with a prospect of another business trip to Cagayan de Oro City, which left me with plenty of reading time, I decided to suspend all artistic judgment on this book, and plunge on it regardless of my past disappointments.

And this time, I was not disappointed. I have always thought of heaven myself as a place where things get explained to us about this life. Reading about Eddie and his five people brings me back memories of people I know who have died when I was too young or too busy to understand their stories. There are days, for instance, that I wished I could have coffee with my late grandfather in Starbucks, and talk about life issues and how he handled them in his time. Had he lived through this day, my grandfather, I’m sure, would have been a Starbucks regular himself. Sadly, it is not possible now, and those conversations will not happen in this life. But Five People consoles me with the thought that maybe, in the next life, that conversation over Starbucks coffee might take place. And with Five People, I could almost imagine how my encounters in heaven might be when my time comes with other friends and relatives that I have already lost.

Of course with this metaphysical premise, Five People might bring tears and wax sentimental in certain places. But never mind that. True and good literature is expected to do that once in a while. Besides, Mitch Albom’s goals are high or should I say, heavy on the sentiment, but he handles it pretty well, carefully treading on the narrow path between artistic detachment and emotion, which prevents it from being a Danielle Steele melodrama that would have caused me to throw it straight to the trash can. Indeed, Mitch Albom manages pretty well, so I'm marking this book "for keeps".

My professor on the modern novel once said in class that all artistic merits being equal, what makes a book outstanding is its vision. And this is why she said Faulkner stands taller than Hemingway. Faulkner had a vision of order and hope, while Hemingway’s vision is of stoic darkness. While Mitch Albom is not in the league of these late giants of modern literature, surely the Five People You Meet in Heaven, with its vision of hope, stands proud out there with the best that modern fiction has to offer.

12 comments:

Major Tom said...

Hi Marvin. The way you describe the book makes it even more salacious than perhaps it is already. In my mind, even if the theory, fictional as it is, that we meet five people in heaven is never biblical or religious in nature, it would greatly help our mindsets to believe that there is life after death after all. This kind of faith makes us stronger and forward looking in life. I'll be watching out for this book. Ciao!

cathcath said...

hey marvin,
this is the book of Mitch that I missed because i believe it was retitled from my FAVE 5 to Five People You meet in heaven.

But this was produced as MTV(movie for TV). Great picture. I can't remember who played the lead but I simply love the story.(got to check my review about that movie).

It validated some of those close
encounters of mine with those "who have already crossed over".

marvin said...

Major Tom,

It's a fine book Major Tom. Take it to Mars. ;)


Cathy,

Your November post on the FIVE PEOPLE HBO movie was one of the considerations that made me buy and read the book despite the fact that it is in the NYtimes bestseller list, which have so far lost all credibility to me.

It's true Cathy. There is hope. My cousin King has validated this too.

marvin

gdawgg said...

i'm disappointed. I was sure that this blog had something to do with lawyers and law....too bad. I just started a law blog called The Politics of Law at http://thestreetlawyer.blogspot.com, and i'm trying to do some research as a "lawyer wannabe", hopefully. I was hopin to find good stuff here...ah well.

marvin said...

gdawgg,

No good stuff here boy. Not for you. Try inq7.net. :)

rolly said...

Ngayon ko lang napuntahan uli ang pinoyblog. Ikaw pala ang blog of the week. It's about time.

I have read the first quarter of the book during one of my substitute scheds last year. It was a student's book. Hook na ko but then I had to return the book as it was already time for me to leave the class. Maganda nga. Now that you mentioned it, hahanap nga ako ng kopya.

Masdal said...

Hi Marvin. I really enjoyed this site because its insightful and enjoyable. I wonder why you wouldn't shop for a better template, one that is unique and distinguishes you from the rest?
Dont get me wrong, your template is just alright but I wanted to see you having an excellent graphics. Just asking and suggesting, I hope you wont take it against personally.God bless and more power.

marvin said...

Thanks Tito Rolly. I can send you my copy. My wife has finished reading it.Just tell me where to send it. :)

Masdal,

I appreciate your comments Masdal.
I'm seriously thinking about relaunching the site, probably with a new name and better template with graphics. But I'm still trying to find time for it. Maybe around May, it might happen.
But for the meantime, pasensya na muna. I don't even have the time nowadays to post regularly. Hataw muna sa trabaho. Kasi the day job pays for the internet connection eh.

rolly said...

No, that's okay. I just discovered my daughter's bought a copy and reading it na pala. Thanks for the offer though.

joyce said...

hi marvin!
i love that book! it was a light read, yet it has shown me a different perspective at how death must be perceived. it's about forgiveness, sacrifice, lost love...
the little girl at the end of the story was filipino, did you notice that? i'd like to take that on a positive note...that to albom, filipinos are generally...angelic people. that despite the inane characterization and typecasting, albom pictures us as a good people :)

marvin said...

Joyce,

I'm willing to overlook the inane characetrization and typecasting, even the periodic birthday scenes, which I skipped, by the way. The goals are modest anyway, and they were achieved magnificently.

marvin

Anonymous said...

i loved that book so much i believe that Mitch knows more about life then we do and i want to knoy why