Wednesday, October 8, 2014

G440 E-Reading La Belle Créole: The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris

Title of the book: La Belle Créole: The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris

Author: Alina García-Lapuerta

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Publishing Date: 2014

ISBN: 9781613745366


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 account of the passionate and adventuresome Belle Créole.

1.Does the book give a "full-length" picture of the subject?

The book does give full-length picture of the subject, that is the author does talk about her from her birth to her death and a lot in between.

2.What phases of the subject's life receive greatest treatment and is this treatment justified?

I feel that the greatest treatment that Mercedes Sanata Cruz Y Montalvo's life receive are when she was growing up in Cuba as well as when she finally became the La Belle Créole. I do understand why extensive treatment was used for Mercedes's early life, and that is to build up on how and why she became so famous and popular. In hindsight the decision does make sense, but considering the fact how little the Western world knows of her, perhaps more information should have been given for her in a family role.

3.What is the point of view of the author?

I personally think that Alina Garcia-Lapuerta tries to impart on the reader a sense of awe that she felt towards Cuba of 1700s as well as towards Mercedes's life. When I was reading the beginnings, I was amazed by so much vivid details that were used to describe where she grew up as well as what it must have been like when she was born.

4.How is the subject matter organized: chronologically, retrospectively, etc.?

The subject matter is organized chronologically, from the time Mercedes was born to the time of her death, and in between would be the wars, travels, escaping with a young family, becoming a famous hostess, writing memoirs and revisiting the land of her birth.

5.Is the treatment superficial or does the author show extensive study into the subject's life?

The author definitely does extensive study into Mercedes's life such as her early childhood experiences, when she lived with her father to when she moved to be with her mother and so forth. She also the autobiographies that Mercedes wrote.

6.What source materials were used in the preparation of the biography?

The source materials that were used are both primary and secondary works: she used Mercedes's autobiographies, history books of what Cuba was like, and so forth. Many of the sources were in Spanish tongue.

7.Is the work documented?

The work is definitely documented chapter by chapter.

8.Does the author attempt to get at the subject's hidden motives?

If Mercedes did have hidden motives, then I didn't sense them, although the author does hint that Mercedes  has learned a lot of skills from her family members in order to become an excellent hostess of the salons as well as becoming well known and famous.

9.What important new facts about the subject's life are revealed in the book?

To be honest, despite her fame and legendary guests, I've never even heard of her prior to reading this biography! For me personally, everything about her was new and captivating.

10.What is the relationship of the subject's career to contemporary history?

Unfortunately, Central and South American nations have very little known in contemporary times, and what is known are negative factors. I personally think that Alina Garcia-Lapuerta had several motives in writing the biography: one is to introduce the readers to a woman that's not known at all in the West and that has been forgotten by the world, and another is to give Cuba another perspective rather than what the West has of. Also she is trying to inspire a discussion of whether or not an immigrant can claim a nation as their homeland if they have been gone for years and years.

11.How does the biography compare with others about the same person?

In English language, I doubt there are any biographies or autobiographies about Mercedes, although in Spanish and other tongues it will be a different story.

12.How does it compare with other works by the same author?

This is the author's first book

Personal Opinion:

I knew nothing about Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, not about her life or about how she has influenced the stars of her time and day. Upon reading the book, I learned a lot about her, and did find her to be an amazing woman: the old saying, behind every powerful man there is a powerful woman definitely has been created for someone like her. I also enjoyed learning about Cuba of the 1700s and would really like to take a tour and see the sights she has seen and experienced. Its actually a shame that she isn't well known in the west, unlike the people she has hosted and rubbed elbows with, but I'm actually happy that she and what she has done for the famous people is acknowledged in the biography.

I would like to thank the publisher for the chance to read and review this book

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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