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Havana, 1933 -1934
As one ponders about life and family, as we all do at some point in life, one must pause and decide at which point the role of my mother as a family member changes into an interest for my mother, as an author. The former, of course, takes preeminence, but when after my father’s passing I came across her diary in a drawer of his room, I found that taking a step back and rediscovering your family as individuals can lead to a new journey of discovery. Looking back, I can also remember one time when, after a conversation I had with my mother about world issues and the United Nations, she said to me: “My dear son, it has been a pleasure speaking with you.” This made me think of her in a very different light, and made me want to know her better. I discovered a completely new person and now I invite you to meet Carmela, the author.

Carmela Valdés-Gallol was born to a Cuban doctor turned journalist and his Spanish wife from Málaga, on December 8th 1917. In 1934, when she was barely sixteen, Carmela, a prodigious pianist, was preparing for a piano recital in the Nation’s most important venue, the Teatro Nacional. Her talent had manifested itself, when, as a nine year old she was chosen to play the part of Queen Isabella in the first feature film made with an all-children cast in 1927. When she graduated from the famed Bach Conservatory, she was rewarded for her first prize honor with a recital at the aforementioned National Theater. Later in life she would dedicate herself to literature, then again music, then charity, and always, to her family. This book contains the diary of an eager sixteen-year-old in the world of 1934 Havana during the three-month period preceding the piano recital. As an epilogue to the diary and to the program, the recital's newspaper review is included.

The second part of the book consists of seven more autobiographical stories written in Carmela’s later years. These stories illustrate what happened to the young artist of 1934 as her life continued to unravel with many twists and turns. The book offers a complete view of Carmela’s journey, from what she deems her youthful memories–written when she was only sixteen–to her last published work one year after September 11th, on Rebirth From The Ashes, a special issue of the Spanish Newspaper ABC. The reader can see how her style evolved while her spirit remained the same with age. In between, her book of philosophical poetry and prose, Poemas en Prosa, Havana, 1936, and New York, 1978, received the foreword of Juán Ramón Jiménez, a Literature Nobel Prize. She is one of the poets featured in the Anthology of Poetry in Cuba, 1936, culled by some of the foremost figures in literature of the island and Spain. A friend of mine while “Googling” Carmela Valdés-Gallol, came across an Argentine professor of literature and expert in Latin American women writers, who includes her among the best of Latin America.

Carmela was in my view a liberated woman, giving her opinion when she thought it was necessary and keeping it to herself at other times, one curious thing that always made me smile is that her relatives referred to my mother as “La Niña,” (the little girl) affectionately of course, and even when she published her last piece at the age of 84, they still referred to her as “La Niña.” She lived up to her ideal, written in the diary, of “Nature, Love, and Art.” She was the living proof that a woman was a companion, not a slave, to her husband, she would like to remind us that even Jesus had said this. My admiration for her is easy to understand, it fell upon me to spend time with her during her final years, and we had a chance to enjoy a myriad of conversations, this is the reason why this diary from 1934 and the pieces that follow are important to me. Her maiden name was the composed name of Valdés-Gallol. There too is a story. My great great grandfather, Atanasio Valdés, was born and raised as an orphan by the nuns of the Beneficencia, the famous Havana orphanage. When he grew up, his skills as a doctor were such that when the Queen of Spain Isabel II sought the best doctor in the empire for herself it was this doctor that was recommended. After caring for her and being ennobled with the order of Carlos III he returned to Havana. There he fell in love, and started a family. However, since his wife’s name was Gallol and she was Condesa de la Reunión de Cuba, the two names were joined together and that's how the new name of Valdés-Gallol was born. Our family always liked this story, VG was the middle initial that both my mother and I chose in this country, and my friends would joke about it as standing for Very Good.

One year after September 11th, and knowing that a major newspaper in Spain was looking for contributions for a special issue, I asked my mother if she had anything to say to the world... “of course!” She answered. The result is the Poem on Rebirth from the Ashes, which would be her last. Whether she was pondering complex philosophical issues or musing about trivialities, the versatility and candidness of her writing show a will to express herself and to communicate, to adapt to life’s challenges and to live it to the fullest.

I invite you to meet Carmela, the woman who despite the many ups and downs in life decided that she was going to be heard, in music and in literature, brothering, so to speak, the two arts.
--Rafael VG Rodriguez

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“A delight to read, and a window onto a vanished world” Carlos Eire, T. Lawson Rigs professor of History and Religion, Yale University; National Book Award: Waiting for Snow in Havana

“The book is of great lyric quality.. it is a pity that it took so many years to bring it to the public limelight” Odón Betanzos, Director, Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española, New York

“Humanity’s beacon shines upon this young woman...her premature and lush style blends the worldly image with the melody of the soul in a harmonious, delicate and heretofore unwritten figuration...” Juán Ramón Jiménez, Nobel Prize, literature

“For me it has been an honor to have been moved by Carmela’s writings” Maria Cristina Faleroni, Multimedia Artist, Argentina

“Carmela, as a woman and as an artist was always enchanting” Ricardo Florit, profesor, Columbia University
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