La Belle Créole

La Belle Créole
La Belle Créole

La Belle Créole

The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris
By Alina García-Lapuerta


320 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Cloth, PDF, Mobipocket, EPUB, Trade Paper

Cloth, $29.95 (US $29.95) (CA $35.95)

ISBN 9781613745366

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Sep 2014)


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2015 Internation Latino Book Awards Honorable Mention for Best Biography in English Known for her beauty and angelic voice, Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, la Belle Créole, was a Cuban-born star of nineteenth-century Parisian society. She befriended aristocrats and artists alike, including Balzac, Baron de Rothschild, Rossini, and the opera diva La Malibran. A daughter of the creole aristocracy, Mercedes led a tumultuous life, leaving her native Havana as a teenager to join her mother in the heart of Madrid's elite society. As Napoleon swept Spain into the Peninsular War, Mercedes' family remained at the center of the storm, and her marriage to French general Christophe-Antoine Merlin tied her fortunes to France. Arriving in Paris in the aftermath of the French defeat, she re-created her life, ultimately hosting the city's premier musical salon. Acknowledged as one of the greatest amateur sopranos of her day, she nurtured artistic careers and daringly paved the way for well-born singers to publicly perform in lavish philanthropic concerts. Beyond her musical renown, Mercedes achieved fame as a writer. Her memoirs and travel writings introduced European audiences to nineteenth-century Cuban society and contributed to the debate over slavery. Scholars still quote her descriptions of Havana life and recognize her as Cuba's earliest female author. Mercedes epitomized an unusually modern life, straddling cultures and celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. Her memoirs, travel writings, and very personal correspondence serve as the basis for this first-ever English-language biography of the passionate and adventuresome Belle Créole.


"García-Lapuerta captures the reader's imagination with vivid details of Mercedes's life in Cuba, Madrid, and Paris. García-Lapuerta's beautifully written account of La Belle Créole illuminates lesser-known aspects of 19th-century transatlantic culture and the roles powerful women were able to play in it." —Publishers Weekly

"La Belle Créole is an extraordinary tale of a beautiful, warm-hearted woman born into the fabulous wealth of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Cuban aristocracy. Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo (later Countess Merlin) nevertheless found the strength to assert her independence and carve out her own place in the world. In this meticulously researched, fascinating book, Alina García-Lapuerta not only introduces us to an inspiring heroine but shows us what biography at its best can do." —Jehanne Wake, author of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Unconventional Daughter and Sisters of Fortune: America's Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad

"A fascinating book about a charming personality who deserves to be remembered." —Hugh Thomas, author of The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870 and Conquest: Cortes, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico

"This work marks the first full-length English-language biography of the countess and draws upon her letters, memoirs, and contemporary news accounts to make a highly readable story. An influential biography that will captivate readers of all types." —Library Journal

"Garcia provides a comprehensive and critical account of the life, work and environment of a singular woman whose impact reverberated on both sides of the Atlantic." —EFE

"Alina Garcia-Lapuerta has pulled the most interesting times out of Mercedes varied past and brought to life a captivating woman who was ahead of her time." —Stephanie's Book Reviews

"Garcia-Lapuerta's passion for the subject is palpable. After I read her marvelous La Belle Créole I can admit, Mercedes reached across time and seduced me too –– her story reads like a great romance novel." —LostPastRemembered

"La Belle Créole" is a welcome book, one that adds a colorful brush stroke or two to our image of the early and mid-19th century." —The Wall Street Journal

Author Biography

Born in Havana, Alina García-Lapuerta holds degrees in international economics from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and international relations from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and worked for a number of years in banking. Now based in London with her Spanish American husband and their two children, she spends considerable time in South Florida. She is a member of Biographers International Organization and the Biographers' Club.