Book review: The Next Person You Meet in Heaven

Book review: The Next Person You Meet in Heaven

A balm in sequence?

So feel-good that it edges on the border of sickly syrupiness. Or greeting-card mawkishness, if you will.

In a world of frenetic thrillers and highly strung soap-operatic works of fiction comes the new feel-good narrative by Mitch Albom, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven. So feel-good that it edges on the border of sickly syrupiness. Or greeting-card mawkishness, if you will.

Life happens. Albom found his calling as a sports journalist and author of books on sports before changing tracks and penning motivational books when his first such, the well-known Tuesdays with Morrie, hit the jackpot and was on The New York Times’s bestseller list in the non-fiction category.

From there it was a skip and jump to writing similar fiction where the readers see only the pink clouds in a world made of sugar and spice, and everything nice.

The Next Person You Meet in Heaven is a sequel to Mitch Albom’s earlier book The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

This book depicted the death of Eddie, a maintenance man in an amusement park, and his post-death meeting with the five people who had left an impact on his life, even though he did not recognise it then.

This new book is a story in the same genre, the journey of Annie who figured in Eddie’s life, but is now traversing the same route in heaven meeting people who, knowingly or unknowingly, left an imprint on her life. And one of them is who she calls Eddie Main’tnance.

On the day after her wedding, Annie is in a hot-air balloon accident with her new husband and, due to the circumstances that follow, is transported to heaven. The part where Annie leaves her earthly self behind on earth can be shown as an example by those who believe in near-death experiences.

“And she was moving. The ground beneath her feet seemed to carve loose and zoom at tremendous speed, but with no friction, like a glass-enclosed elevator catapulted into space. She sped through colours of every shade, lavender and lemon and avocado green. She felt no wind, but she heard wind… Annie felt no worry at all. She felt almost airy, and as pain-free as a child. Then something shot through her, something so alien she would not have had the words for it. Every piece of her was ill-fitting, as if her arms and legs had lengthened, and her head was on a new neck, and images flashed through her mind that had never been there before: the inside of a home, faces in a classroom, glimpses of the Italian countryside. Then, just as quickly, she was back in her own consciousness and the colors were shooting by again, turquoise and yellow and salmon and wine red.” There we have it; now we know what to expect when our time comes.

It’s in this heaven that she meets the five people who had influenced her life and changed it in some way or the other. It’s a rite of passage, so to say. These individuals “teach you something you didn’t realize while you were alive. It helps you understand the things you went through,” the first person to meet her in heaven tells her.

Annie continues in heaven, navigating various geographies and landscapes of heaven, all somehow associated with the people she is about to meet. The first one is a kid obsessed with trains, who becomes the doctor who treated young Annie when she was caught in a disastrous amusement- park accident from which the aforementioned Eddie saved her while losing his life in the bargain.

Eddie is one of the five who meet her during her journey in heaven.

All these characters remind her about incidents long forgotten and the significant role they had played in her growth to make her what she eventually turned out to be. Of course, they deliver homilies along the way, too.

“We fear loneliness, Annie, but loneliness itself does not exist. It has no form. It is merely a shadow that falls over us. And just as shadows die when light changes, that sad feeling can depart once we see the truth.”

Words of wisdom and Uncle Albom’s sermons scattered throughout the book like toys in a toddler’s room do ring true when they are read.

Unfortunately, they do not have recall value once pages are turned. See these, for instance. “Children begin by needing their parents. Over time, they reject them. Eventually, they become them.” Or “Just because you have silenced a memory does not mean you are free of it.” Or “we embrace our scars more than our healing… we can recall the exact day we got hurt, but who remembers the day the wound was gone?”

They do the uplifting they are required to, these words, but they vanish from the mind a few pages later.

Preachiness abounds. Written in simple language that makes it extremely readable. However, the characters and story do not touch a reader’s heart and stay two-dimensional within the 213 pages of this story. The Next Person You Meet in Heaven acts as a soul massage for the reader but only while it is being read. Not a life-changing narrative, no.