December 14, 1981 12:00 PM

by Monique Lange

Just to hear her recording of La Vie en Rose is to experience some of the haunting sadness that was Edith Piaf. Her mother died of a drug overdose. Her father took her to his mother’s house, a bordello, in Normandy where the waif was pampered by the eight women who worked there. “She would pick out tunes on the piano in the living room, and crawl up on the knees of the gentlemen visitors.” Only in France would such a flagrantly melodramatic life be possible. Her lovers created her, trained her for the stage, gave her what little discipline she had as an entertainer—and all the while she loved and hated and fought them with incredible, destructive passion. “She acts the way one dies,” wrote a reviewer, “perhaps without knowing how well she does it…. With her wild hair, looking for all the world like a harridan, her tiny body clothed in demonic black, Piaf is a priestess of love.” The book recounts her many, many romances (among them, boxer Marcel Cerdan and actor Yves Montand), her triumphs, illnesses and wild drinking. The photographs are fascinating. The fragile little woman looked more and more tragic as she grew older. Lange, a French novelist-screenwriter, tells her Zola-like story with showbiz pizzazz. (Seaver Books, $19.95)

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