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Literature / The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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A novel by Mitch Albom, published in 2003.

In an amusement park called Ruby Pier, an old man named Eddie works as the head of maintenance. One day a ride malfunctions and he gives his life to rescue a trapped little girl. The rest of the novel follows his journey through Heaven, meeting people who've touched his life, or whose lives he's touched. A Made-for-TV Movie was made in 2004, starring Jon Voight.

  • Chekhov's Skill: Due to his pier side fairground upbringing, Eddie becomes proficient with juggling three, four and even five items He later uses this skill to wow the bored Japanese prison camp guards by juggling rocks and get them into the hut, then pelts them with the rocks to begin a break out.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: The Captain shot Eddie so that he wouldn't kill himself by trying to go back into the burning building.
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  • Dead to Begin With: The novel starts off with Eddie dying.
  • Heaven: Given the subject of the novel, this is the setting for the majority of the time. Apparently you meet five people there, and they tell you about your life.
    • You are then tasked to tell others about their lives. Once you've covered all those you've significantly influenced in life you get to truly ascend to Heaven. In the meantime, you get your own neat little Heaven scape though.
  • Infant Immortality: Both averted, subverted and somewhat inverted. At the beginning of the story Eddie attempts to save a little girl called Amy (or Annie) at the pier during an accident, but dies in the process unknowing if he was successful as the last thing he comprehended was the grip of child hands He finds out at the very end of the story that the hands belonged to Talla, a girl he unknowingly burned to death in the Philippines during World War 2, and that she was pulling him into the afterlife. So although one infant died, another lived, and he died saving the one that lived, making it a weird inversion.
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  • My God, What Have I Done?: During World War II, Eddie uses a captured flamethrower to raze the small prison camp he and his comrades just broke out of and in the process attempts to enter a burning hut under the impression that someone is in inside it before being crippled by his captain to save his life. Turns out there was a little girl in the burning hut. He meets her in Heaven.
  • Nostalgia Heaven: Heaven is a mixture of this and Mundane Afterlife: it's whatever place the person had the fondest memories in (or in some cases, the only memories).
  • Obligatory War-Crime Scene: The conditions of the prison camp for the captured Americans. They share a small hut with no beds, have minimal meals, are subject to disease and mistreatment, forced to work in a nearby mine and a sick and emaciated prisoner who under performs is executed. The American soldiers also engage in war crimes - they shoot all the Japanese involved, even the one who was sneaking them bread, and another when they burn up a hut that has children in it, albeit unknowingly.
  • Pensieve Flashback: Happens a lot in the Made-for-TV Movie.
  • POW Camp: Eddie is in one in the Philippines.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Eddie, after he returns from fighting in World War II.
  • This Is My Story: The people Eddie meets usually give him stories of their lives and how they were relevant to his. In turn, they are: a sideshow freak a young Eddie accidentally gave a fatal heart attack, the Ruby that Ruby Pier was named after, Eddie's commanding officer in WWII, Eddie's wife Marguerite, and the little girl he accidentally killed in WWII.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The man mentioned in the beginning of the story who lost his keys while on one of the rides ends up causing Eddie's death because the key has been for months fraying the wire of the ride that ends up sending a cart down.

Example of: