By Punya Srivatsava August 2014 The First Phone Call from Heaven Mitch Albom, Hachette India, INR 499, 308 pages A sleepy, nondescript town in the vicinity of Lake Michigan suddenly finds itself in the global spotlight, thanks to a spate of phone calls its residents are receiving – from the heavens above. Mitch Albom’s fiction is a page-turner that seeks to invoke faith in Him, and in the idea of a heaven saturated with love, light, and hope. The narrative is dotted with multiple points of view. The conflict between the characters and their subsequent resolution, is a convincing portrayal of human frailties and strength. There are no villains or heroes, only humans. Tess, ever disparaging of her mother’s charitable heart, finds herself emulating her in every deed after receiving her call from heaven. Katherine, a mousy little woman who needed her deceased sister’s guidance in every step she took in life, handles the pressure of being the chosen one with surprising strength, thanks to the heavenly call. Sully, a tainted flying officer and a non-believer, fights a hard life to support his young kid, all the while bearing the guilt of ‘not being there’ when his wife breathed her last. Albom focuses on average human beings caught in a sudden whirlwind that uproots their lives. Every character is flawed in varying degrees; they all carry their own albatross around their necks. The best part of the book, however, are the calls from heaven. “Knowing heaven is what heals us on earth,” says one caller. “When you know you are loved, that is the light,” says another. A dead son assuring his dad of eternity; a deceased mother underlying the importance of forgiveness to her daughter; a departed elder sister comforting her sibling with her presence; a wife telling her husband to let go; and all of them asking to hold onto faith, marks the crux of the story. The callers from the afterlife paint a tantalising picture of heaven through their words – a place where there is no other emotion than love, no other entity than light, and no other truth than faith. As one of the callers state, “The end is not the end”.
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