LA BELLE CRE’OLE: The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris ~Alina Garcia Lapuerta
“The phrase ‘creole’ often puzzles the modern reader. Many think that creole or criolla (in Spanish) means a person of mixed race from the former slave-owning states or the Caribbean. However, the word merely indicates that someone was born in a colony, generally of European descent.” (From the author’s notes)
LA BELLE CREOLE is a biography about Maria de las Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo. She is a heroine to the people of Cuba, who was raised by her material Great Grandmother on the family plantations where she had free reign in her comings and goings until she was reconnected with her parents at age 9 with her Father and 13 with her mother. Mercedes lived many years in Paris and Madrid before returning to Havana in the 1840s. She was born February 6, 1789 in Havana, her parents left for Europe a few months later.
Her father thought a convent would be the best situation for Mercedes, but that was not to be with this society girl and her big ideas.
I read an advanced PDF copy of the book which did not include pictures or cover; I thought I should share Amazon’s Book Description here so we would both know the cover words:
The adventurous woman nicknamed La Belle Créole is brought to life in this book through the full use of her memoirs, contemporary accounts, and her intimate letters. The fascinating María de las Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, also known as Mercedes, and later the Comtesse Merlin, was a Cuban-born aristocrat who was years ahead of her time as a writer, a socialite, a salon host, and a participant in the Cuban slavery debate. Raised in Cuba and shipped off to live with her socialite mother in Spain at the age of 13, Mercedes triumphed over the political chaos that blanketed Europe in the Napoleonic days, by charming aristocrats from all sides with her exotic beauty and singing voice. She married General Merlin in Napoleon’s army and discussed painting with Francisco de Goya. In Paris she hosted the city’s premier musical salon where Liszt, Rossini, and great divas of the day performed for Rothschilds, Balzac, and royalty. Celebrated as one of the greatest amateur sopranos of her day, Mercedes also achieved fame as a writer. Her memoirs and travel writings introduced European audiences to 19th-century Cuban society and contributed to the debate over slavery. Mercedes has recently been rediscovered as Cuba’s earliest female author and one who deserves a place in the canon of Latin American literature.
The early reviewers on Amazon have all given it 5 stars and written very positive reviews. For those readers who love a biography this book is a “treat” and it is very well written. The author went to Georgetown University and now resides in England and is also Cuban heritage. I was thinking as I worked my way through the book, how much my mother would have loved this story and enjoyed the extensive family history and the stunning descriptive paragraphs all gleaned from the author’s extensive research.
The copy of this book was sent to me by Chicago Review Press for review and I appreciated the opportunity.
LA BELLE CREOLE was a good read. I was saddened to learn that my copy did not include the family tree which was at the back of the book. I grew a bit weary of the long narratives about the family at the beginning – the begats. Family intermarriage was a security issue to keep the rich, rich and I get exhausted by the private club this creates in the world.
Tags: 1790-1900, Alina Garcia Lapuerta, biography, Cuba, Havana, LA BELLE CREOLE, Madrid, Maria de las Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, Napoleon, Paris, singing, Slavery, sugar plantations, wealth, writer