by Sarah Block, Library Communications
Sharing her seven-year journey following in the footsteps of the historic Countess of Merlin, biographer Alina García-Lapuerta presented her new book, La Belle Créole: The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) on Thursday, September 11.
Scenes of Colonial Cuba, Napoleonic Spain, and nineteenth-century Parisian society came alive in the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, where more than 130 community members gathered for the event, co-presented by Books & Books and sponsored by BB&T and the Amigos of the Cuban Heritage Collection.
Following a welcome reception, the author discussed the life of her illustrious biographical subject, Cuban-born countess and amateur soprano Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo (1789-1852), who is known for her influence on Parisian culture, and recognized as Cuba’s first female writer. “She was an extraordinary character of an extraordinary time,” García-Lapuerta said, explaining that the countess’s well-known but oft-contradicted legend prompted the venture of retracing her life.
The author shared historical photos and letters found in archives she visited in Cuba, Spain, France, and the United States during the research process that allowed her to fill in gaps and settle inconsistencies in earlier portraits of the Countess of Merlin. “Her story had gotten lost, and I wanted to bring it back,” she said.
Some of the materials featured in La Belle Créole came from CHC, where she made several stops looking for the countess in the books, newspapers, magazines, letters, and other documents permanently housed there. It was at Books & Books and CHC, García-Lapuerta explained, where she first encountered her biographical subject. “That the Cuban Heritage Collection can be a part of journeys of discovery like Alina’s and books like the one she has written is exactly why we dedicate ourselves to collecting, preserving, and making discoverable Cuba’s history and culture,” said Chair Maria Estorino Dooling.
Dean of Libraries Charles Eckman also spoke, thanking the many people who came together to coordinate the event. “This is the first event that has come about as a result of our exciting partnership with Books & Books,” he said. “We look forward presenting many more evenings like this one.”
The evening concluded with a book signing of La Belle Créole.
Photos by Andrew Innerarity.