Piaf – Simone Berteaut

Piaf by Simone Berteaut
on 1979
Pages: 432
Goodreads

The true, tumultuous story of Edith Piaf, the Parisian waif who entertained France and the world with her songs, her loves, her scandals, herself.

Written by Simone Beteaut, Edith Piaf's half-sister and lifelong partner in mischief when they sang for tips in the streets, squares, cafés, and military camps, while living in a succession of cheap, squalid hotels during Piaf's early years.

This is the story of Edith Piaf written by her half-sister. It shows passion, dedication and a time and place so different from my own. The author, Simone Berteaut, began working in a factory at the age of eleven. I worked alongside my father as his dental nurse from the age of about sixteen during my school holidays. Essentially, there is no similarity between us except the first letters of our first name. Berteaut then left home a couple of years later to live, and work, with her sister, Piaf. I stayed home, alternating work and study until I was twenty two. They lived in such a different world and that’s one of the things I loved about this book, I got to inhabit their world for the duration of the book and find out how easy my life has been in comparison to theirs.

This book shows so many details that I felt I wanted to know. Berteaut details how they sometimes slept in the streets and how they often only worked until they had enough money for food or alcohol. We’re also treated to the story of how Piaf was found and then went from one place to another and eventually became a French icon.

What we see is how Piaf was educated to do more than just sing. She had to learn about dressing for the stage, dressing so other people can see what she was feeling during the song. As she was rather itinerant in her life, moving between parents and grandparents, and at one stage living in a brothel she would have missed out on learning about clothes.

This is a warts and all biography. Berteaut doesn’t pull any punches in showing us how Piaf treated people, in showing us how Piaf went from man to man, sleeping with whoever she wanted. She showered clothes and attention on them until she bored of their company.

The only thing this book doesn’t provide is the sound track to their lives. For that you need to see the movie from 2007. Called La Vie en Rose it is a heartrending movie showing us Piaf’s life. I can’t remember enough details from eleven years ago to tell you how it compares with this book but the soundtrack was just stunning.

As an aside. During my childhood we had a vinyl record of Edith Piaf. One day we played it. We heard the beautiful and striking tones of Piaf on one side and the down-to-earth tones of Rolf Harris on the other. It was a little strange.

If you want to read this book you might consider looking for a pre-loved copy. There are enough on the market. I suspect it’s out of print as I can’t find it in most of my usual haunts. If you’re careful you can buy it in the original language.