Mitch Albom
The Next Person You Meet in Heaven
Sphere/HarperCollins, US/UK, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0751571899

The Next Person You Meet in Heaven

 

"There’s a strong sense, as in the Gospels, that it’s not so much what we do with our time on Earth that matters – rather it’s who we are and the relationships we make that are important."

The sequel to Albom’s well-received The Five People You Meet in Heaven, his latest novel returns us to Heaven with some different but still connected characters.

The story, like the previous novel, starts at the end; that is, the end of a life and the beginning of the person – in this case Annie’s – journey into the afterlife (if you haven’t read the previous book, The Five People You Meet In Heaven, and don’t wish to read any spoilers, please stop reading now).

Annie, you may recall, was the little girl Eddie – the protagonist of the previous novel – was trying to save when he was crushed by a ride at the carnival. This is her story.

While Annie survived the accident that killed the war-veteran-turned-carnival-ride-fixer Eddie, she was left with a deformed hand which was cut off in the accident and then reattached. Just as the event shaped Eddie’s life in a dramatic way (it ended it, on Earth at least), so too did the intersection of his life with Annie’s have lifelong ramifications for her.

Annie, we learn, didn’t have an easy upbringing but managed to find some joy in a hard life culminating in her marriage to Paulo, a childhood friend who had come back into her life. 

Yet, thanks to her mistakes (or so she thinks), even that joy is cut short when she is killed in a balloon accident and finds herself, like Eddie before her, in Heaven. Like him, she meets five people who impacted her life on Earth as she undertakes a weird odyssey through Heaven which is designed to help her come to terms - explain even - the life that she lived.

As with the previous novel, the inter-connectness of our lives is an important theme here; that and the idea that while we may live our lives according to certain "immutable" facts which we believe define us, actually we’re only ever seeing part of the picture.

It’s a thoughtfully written and in places, deeply moving, read and, as was the case with Eddie, it’s the seeming ordinariness of Annie’s life which make her such a relatable character (although one could argue her death, like that of Eddie, was in fact rather extraordinary - of course, the premise of the entire book is that every life is actually, to some degree, extraordinary).

There’s a strong sense, as in the Gospels, that it’s not so much what we do with our time on Earth that matters – rather it’s who we are and the relationships we make that are important.

An intimate, poignant portrait of the meaning of life.