paris street scene

No Regrets:
The Life of Edith Piaf

Carolyn Burke

La Vie en Prose

By Rick Kleffel, The Santa Cruz Weekly
April 27, 2011

We make our own lives out of words from the stories we tell ourselves and rarely realize our own good fortune. To understand, we need to see words that describe another's life and fortune, to see that life from within after having seen it from afar.

Edith Piaf is an artist who commands our attention, whose pure voice takes us out of our lives into a world now lost. We know the externals of her story, from the streets of Paris to Carnegie Hall. It is a triumph of art and of song. But to understand, to see our lives in hers, we need to experience her story from within. Carolyn Burke's No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf lets us live in the heart that broke hearts.

Burke's biography of Piaf is a sublime vision in which art captures the artist. From Belleville, where Piaf — then named Edith Gassion — found the passion to give voice to impoverished slum-dwellers, to Carnegie Hall, where that voice was graced with the finesse to change lives, Burke's prose builds for readers a life worth living in the most terrible of times.

Piaf is a complicated figure and a compelling character. She was a poet, a lyricist and a mentor to other singers. She took part in Resistance efforts in World War II. As Piaf knew her strengths, Burke knows her own. She combines intense, detailed scholarship with a flair for storytelling. Piaf did not sing or live gently — it's desperation mingled with joy. She took her voice and her life to the edge. Burke's biography takes us to the center of that life and lets us look out for a moment. When we are done, we can look back at the life we never lived as if we might have lived it.