Review: I love learning about intriguing women throughout history. The story of María de las Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo or just Mercedes, is no exception. Born in Cuba to a well-connected family in the 19th century, Mercedes was perfectly placed to drive her own destiny. Raised in her great-grandmother's household and then sent to her mother's household in Spain in the midst of political tumult, Mercedes continued to thrive and grow. She eventually married becoming the Comtesse Merlin and hosted the premiere soirees of her time.
I loved Mercedes stories of her childhood and the way that they were captured. Her daring escapes from her relative's imprisonment as well as the convent were exciting as well as humorous, even if they were romanticized by Mercedes later in life. Mercedes time in Cuba was the most interesting to me, the landscape, houses, family issues and Mercedes antics made her childhood seem like an adventure. Her parents lives were equally as entertaining and it's easy to see where her personality, persuasive ways and flare for the dramatic came from. In her adulthood Mercedes went from Spain to France and hosted extravagant salons featuring premiere artists and musicians of the day. This section painted a beautiful portrait of France at the time and the luxuriousness of Mercedes' salons. Luckily, Mercedes wrote about her life in her published memoirs. I had only wished that I could have read more of the actual excerpts that Mercedes had written. 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.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
About the Author:
Born in Havana but raised from an early age in the United States, Alina García-Lapuerta shares a strong bond with her subject, Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, both through their mutual birthplace as well as through the experience of living across different cultures.
It was a passion for their common Cuban heritage which led Alina to her first glimpse of la Belle Créole in a beautifully illustrated book on Havana. Calling her a Cuban Scheherazade, the book described Mercedes holding court in a Havana palace in 1840. Other books on colonial Cuba intriguingly quoted from her Spanish-language work, Viaje a la Habana – at the time frustratingly out of print. Curious to know more about this mysterious Cuban-born star of nineteenth-century Parisian society, Alina searched for traces of this extraordinary life. What started as a simple inquiry ultimately transformed into a full-blown pursuit around the globe, rummaging in archives and libraries in the US, Cuba, Spain, France and England. The final result of this quest is the first full-length English-language biography of the Condesa de Merlin, la Belle Créole.
Alina graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in International Economics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She later received a master’s degree in international relations from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and worked for a number of years in banking, both at Chase and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Now based in London with her Spanish-American husband and their two children, she still spends considerable time in South Florida.
She is member of Biographers International Organization, The Biographers’ Club London as well as being a trustee of two medical research charities.