This will be a heartfelt review, as this is very much a book of the heart. It has been a long time since I have read anything as wonderful, inspiring and hopeful as this book. More than once I felt myself welling up. The book lands some pretty hefty emotional punches, without falling into the trap of being manipulative or sugar coated. It’s a book of spiritual wisdom whilst being rooted very firmly in the human. The style of the prose is crisp, clear, energetic and hopeful.
Mitch Albom is a journalist and writer and brought up in the Jewish faith, whilst not practising himself at the book’s start. And at the very start of the book he is asked by his old Rabbi, Albert Lewis, to write said Rabbi’s eulogy for the event of his death. The reason for Albert’s request (he’s nicknamed ‘the Reb’) is never made clear, other than the he heard Mitch speak, and that he mentored Mitch as a young man, seeing him through his Bar Mitzvah. What follows are reflections on a series of interviews between Mitch and the Reb, as Mitch strives to understand his subject better. In so doing they start a journey exploring the nature of faith and the deepest questions of what it means to be human.
Running parallel to this are a series of chapters exploring the sad history of one Henry Covington, a man raised in the hardest of circumstances, and who has lived a life of crime, violence, tragedy and loss. Henry will become a Pastor at a Church with a special mission to the homeless of Detroit, wonderfully named “I am my Brother’s Keeper.” The book tells us how he got there, and what keeps him there, in his struggles with a crumbling Church building, and the growing depression in the streets of Detroit. We learn how Mitch’s journey will lead him to Pastor Henry’s door, and how the search for God knits together all the stories in this book, across their respective faiths.
The book is clearly and explicitly about hope, particularly the hope that in our days of sectarian and inter-faith strife, there is another, deeper, more excellent way for us to relate to each other. And the book gives some beautiful examples of what humanity is like at its best, when we reach down to help up the person who has fallen.
A must read if you have any faith or none. If you are suspicious of faith itself, or of one particular faith and feel hostile to others, then please read this book with an open heart.