Mitch Al­bom re­turns to heaven

Au­thor says his books aren’t about death

Lethbridge Herald - - GREAT READS SATURDAY BOOKS - Mike House­holder THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS — DE­TROIT

Mitch Al­bom’s books are about faith and sal­va­tion, for­give­ness and sec­ond chances. What they most cer­tainly are not about, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor, is a cer­tain five-let­ter word.

“I re­ally don’t think my books are about death,” Al­bom told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “And I don’t think they’re de­press­ing. I think they’re the op­po­site.”

Many of Al­bom’s works do touch on the after­life, how­ever, in­clud­ing his lat­est, “The Next Per­son You Meet in Heaven,” which comes out on Tues­day and marks the novelist’s first se­quel. The new book re­vis­its the sto­ries of Ed­die the amuse­ment park main­te­nance man and An­nie, the young girl whose life he saves while los­ing his own. Ed­die and An­nie ap­peared in 2003’s “The Five Peo­ple You Meet in Heaven.”

That first foray into fic­tion fol­lowed the mega-suc­cess­ful “Tues­days with Mor­rie,” which chron­i­cled the De­troit sports colum­nist’s weekly meet­ings with his dy­ing men­tor and trans­formed Al­bom from an award-win­ning De­troit sports colum­nist into a best­selling au­thor.

“I think all my books at some point you can kind of draw a line some­where with a slide rule to ‘Tues­days with Mor­rie,’” Al­bom said. “You know, there’s some les­son that hap­pened, and that’s OK. That was a sem­i­nal mo­ment in my life.”

An­other was his re­la­tion­ship with Chika, a Haitian girl with a ter­mi­nal brain tu­mour whom Al­bom met through the or­phan­age in Port-auPrince that he set up fol­low­ing the earth­quake in 2010.

Al­bom brought Chika to live with him and his wife in Michi­gan, and, although she was given five months to live, the girl Al­bom de­scribed as a “fighter” lasted nearly two years be­fore suc­cumb­ing to her ill­ness.

“The Next Per­son You Meet in Heaven” is ded­i­cated to Chika, and Al­bom ac­knowl­edges that a pas­sage in which An­nie suf­fers a tragedy in­volv­ing a small child rep­re­sents “a lit­tle bit of pro­jec­tion, I guess, on my part.”

“(Chika) per­me­ated the air around that book,” Al­bom said dur­ing an in­ter­view at the S.A.Y. De­troit Play Cen­ter, a fa­cil­ity where young peo­ple can come and learn, eat and/or play mu­sic and sports af­ter school. It’s one of Al­bom’s many char­i­ta­ble en­deav­ours in his home­town and be­yond, and it’s also one of the ways he spends his time when not writ­ing best­selling nov­els and col­umns for the De­troit Free Press. Al­bom also hosts a lo­cal ra­dio show and a na­tional sports pod­cast.

Next up is a re­turn to non-fic­tion with a look at “Chika and Haiti and the kids and how you cre­ate a fam­ily in your 50s,” said Al­bom, who is writ­ing the book now and ex­pects it to come out next year. “It’s very cathar­tic for me to be writ­ing that now.”

Now 60, Al­bom says he may need to pare down his lengthy list of ac­tiv­i­ties if he wants to com­plete the books that are “noodling around” in his mind. The two ac­tiv­i­ties he’ll never re­move, Al­bom says, are the “book-writ­ing and my kids in Haiti. There’s 47 kids there, and my goal is to live long enough to see them all col­lege-ed­u­cated,” he said.

Al­bom won’t get to see Chika with a di­ploma in hand, but read­ers can learn more about her — or at least the in­spi­ra­tion she pro­vided — in the pages of a book writ­ten by the man who helped ex­tend her life.

As­so­ci­ated Press photo

This cover im­age re­leased by Harper shows “The Next Per­son You Meet in Heaven,” a novel by Mitch Al­bom.

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