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Book Review: No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf by Carolyn Burke

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Edith Piaf was “La Voix de Paris” (The Voice of Paris) in the ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s, and the French people loved her not only for her voice but for her legend and her sheer zest for life and love. No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf captures this amazing story in a readable style that really brings the singer to life for modern audiences.

Her mother was a drug addict who sang on the streets, and her father was a circus acrobat. Edith spent her early childhood first in a brothel and then traveling with her dad in the circus. She sang on the streets of the poorest parts of Paris from an early age.

It sounds like the stuff of make-believe, but Piaf’s story is true. She rose from singing in the streets to the Paris clubs, and then to the heights of fame and fortune. During World War II, she even used her fame to rescue many Jews from the Nazi camps, smuggling in false passports when she went to sing in the camps. She wrote over 100 songs, and mentored many other French artists, including some of her many lovers. She might have found true love once in her life, with boxer Marcel Cerdan, who died tragically, but she never stopped taking a chance on love with other men and she never, ever stopped taking what joy she could wherever she found it.

The tabloids would have loved Piaf today. The newspapers and popular magazines loved her in her time.

In America, Piaf was compared to Judy Garland and Billie Holiday, and appeared at Carnegie Hall and on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town regularly. She was an international sensation, and a sensual woman who, despite ill health, gave everything she had to her most consistent love, her audience.

Carolyn Burke had access, for this book, to documents and sources that had not been used before, and she uses her resources well, weaving Piaf’s songs and professional appearance together with her remarkable and amazing story in a way that is an enthralling and engrossing as Piaf herself was to her worldwide audience.

If you want to read a biography that manages to be both scholarly and entertaining about a woman whose life had all the best elements of fiction in a true story, this is the one. Even if you are only vaguely familiar with Edith Piaf, you will be glad you know more about her after you read this book.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.