Paradise Is in the People

Mitch Albom's new novel picks up where 'Tuesdays with Morrie' left off--after death, what's next?

BY: Interview by Rebecca Phillips

Mitch Albom's follow-up to "Tuesdays with Morrie" takes up where the 1997 best-selling phenomenon left off. While "Morrie" chronicled the slow illness and death of Albom's college professor and mentor Morrie Schwartz, his new novel "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" looks at what happens after death. The book follows the character Eddie, an 83-year-old amusement park maintenance man, as he meets five people in heaven whose lives he somehow touched--for better or for worse. Albom spoke with Beliefnet about the real-life "Eddie," the spiritual themes of the novel, and the five people he himself hopes to meet in heaven.

Who was your inspiration for Eddie?

Eddie is based on my old uncle, whose name was Eddie. He was very much like the character in the book--he was a member of the "Greatest Generation," he fought in World War II, over in the Philippines. He was a blue-collar kind of guy--a barrel-chested, white-haired, gruff kind of fellow. He'd punch you in the arm when he said hello. Like Eddie in the book he was a blue-collar worker his whole life, and like Eddie in the book, he felt that his life was insignificant. He'd never really done anything, he'd never gone anywhere. He basically was born and died in the same place. He'd get such a big kick out of my traveling. I'd call him from an airport. I'd say, "I'm calling from Cleveland," and he'd go, "Cleveland, wow! I can't believe it!" I felt terrible that he didn't think of himself the way I thought of him. I thought he was so great, but he thought he was insignificant.

He used to tell me this story about the night he got rushed into the hospital for open-heart surgery. The night of the operation it was very touch-and-go. He remembered waking up and rising and seeing all of his dead relatives sitting on the edge of his bed. Eddie would say, "I told them get the heck out of here! I'm not ready!" And they somehow scattered, and Eddie lived a little bit longer. Growing up, I always heard that story. So when people would ask me what I thought happens when we die, I'd always say, "Well, I know there are people waiting for you because my uncle told me so." He was the closest I've known anyone to come back from that.

So when I figured out what I wanted to do after "Tuesdays with Morrie," I knew I wanted to write fiction and keep some of the themes of "Morrie." I began to think about what happens next, when a person dies. I started to weave together a story about a guy like Eddie, who is blue-collar and feels unappreciated, and maybe he goes to heaven and he meets five people who tell him one by one the ways they were connected to him, and how he was much more significant than he thought. It's sort of a wish for my uncle as much as it is a fictional story.

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