with by Mitch Albom. Time Warner Paperbacks, 2003.
This is a true story, not a novel. Yet, it became a bestseller when first published in 1997. It has since been reprinted in several different editions, translated into thirty-two languages and sold in thirty-seven countries.
Schwartz was a college professor teaching sociology at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, when Mitch Albom the author, was a student there in the late 1970s. In the book, Mitch says that Morrie was his favourite professor and that he was close enough to the professor to be allowed to address him as ‘Coach’.
After leaving university and experiencing a few setbacks and false starts, Mitch took up sports journalism in earnest. He did very well at this, making a name for himself, winning awards, and acquiring all the material accoutrements and emblems of success. Yet, Mitch sensed that there was something lacking.
Meanwhile in 1994, Morrie Schwartz, the old professor, was diagnosed as suffering from a terminal illness, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. There was no cure.
Since leaving university, Mitch and Morrie were to meet only 16 years later. This happened after Ted Koppel had interviewed theon ABC-TV’s ‘Nightline’ programme. They lived about 700 miles apart. Morrie agreed to see Mitch at his home. had a special meaning for the pair as that was the day of the week they regularly met at university for Mitch’s tutorials. Mitch was to visit his old professor on 14 Tuesdays before the latter’s death. These form chapter headings with sub-titles on what they talked most about at these meetings. The topics range from Morrie’s wise pronouncements about ‘the world’, regrets, death, family, emotions, fear of aging, money, love, our culture, marriage, forgiveness, while culminating in the final good bye. Unafraid and accepting of his impending death, Morrie gives a series of master classes in ‘being human’ and ‘relating to others’, to a greatly appreciative student whose gratitude is reflected in the pages of this book.
The result of faithfully recording the exchanges between professor and attentive student is a book that is of such universal appeal, that it touches the heart strings of every reader. No wonder it became a best-seller.
Mitch Albom’s account of the fourteen Tuesdays he spent in his dying old professor’s presence is interspersed with vignettes of their encounters during university days. Scattered in the book are very apt short quotes from the poetry of e.e. cummings and W.H Auden.
Morrie’s humanity and accessibility to his students throughout his career are exemplified in these last few exchanges with Mitch. One outcome is Albom’s distant, or strained relationship with his only sibling Peter, appearing to move towards a resolution by the end of the book. Indeed, the book is dedicated to his younger brother.
Mitch is profoundly changed into rejecting the pursuit of outward, worldly, and purely tangible rewards, towards accepting hitherto suppressed, deeply held human values as a result of the encounter with his old professor who appear to have transcended physical death to survive within these pages.