DECEMBER SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Alberto’s Lost Birthday’ by Diana Rosie

A little boy and his grandfather embark on a quest to find the old man’s missing birthday in Diana Rosie’s debut novel, Alberto’s Lost Birthday.

Alberto is an old man. But he doesn’t know how old – he remembers nothing before his arrival at an orphanage during the Spanish civil war.

He rarely thinks about his missing childhood, but when seven-year-old Tino discovers his grandfather has never had a birthday party, never blown out candles on a birthday cake, never received a single birthday present, he’s determined things should change. And so the two set out to find Alberto’s birthday.

Their search for the old man’s memories takes them deep into the heart of Spain – a country that has pledged to forget its painful past. As stories of courage, cruelty and love unfold, Alberto realises that he has lost more than a birthday. He has lost a part of himself. But with his grandson’s help, he might just find it again.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I read this whole book in one sitting; that is a testament to how easy it is to read this sweet work of fiction. By the time I was two-thirds through, I was desperate to see how it all played out.

The book bounces around the trip of Alberto and his seven-year-old grandson, Tino. Tino’s father is in the hospital after a horrific burning accident, and Alberto tries to distract the child with the story of how, as an orphan, he doesn’t know his own age or birthday. They head off on a road trip to find out what happened to Alberto as a young boy.

Other chapters are peppered through the book from the point of view of other major players  in Alberto’s early life- the woman who cared for him at the orphanage, the girl who grew up with him, the angry fascist commander who was killing people during the Spanish Civil War, Alberto’s birth mother and father, a young priest and an English International Brigade fighter who finds young Alberto in the forest. Between these point of views and of elderly Alberto on his mission, the heartbreaking story all comes together.

The Spanish Civil War rears its ugly head, showing the misery of growing up a orphan in war-time, the realities for Alberto’s birth parents, the sins of the 1930’s, all mixed with a few moments of bad luck, PTSD and beautiful family ties torn to shreds, comes together to find the true date of Alberto’s birth written in a rather unusual place.

.Alberto’s first ever party is laced with a pain I could see coming but didn’t want to acknowledge, but his search also healed pains for many people left scarred by the battles of the late 1930’s. The book is simple and no fuss, has its quiet moments, but tells a painful tale in a gentle way. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to everyone.

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