Francine Prose On Edith Piaf, Beethoven And A Cross-Dressing French Athlete-Turned-Spy

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Francine Prose

Author Francine Prose's new novel is called Lovers At The Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 – and it's a jam-packed tale about good and evil, love gone bad, racecars, Hitler, Picasso, photography, bad cops, crazy escapes and one very troubled woman. Incredibly, the book is based on a true story -- which Prose learned about after seeing a Henry Brassai photograph called "Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle."

The photo pictures a woman named Violette Morris -- a real-life French athlete and racecar driver who eventually became a Nazi spy. Her story loosely inspired Prose's main character in the novel, Lou Villars -- and Prose's Pick Three playlist, which she shared with us on Soundcheck

Pick #1: Edith Piaf, "Mon Legionnaire"

There are other Edith Piaf songs that I like a lot better, and that everyone likes a lot better, but "Mon Legionnaire" has a slightly nationalistic tinge to it. So much of the music at that time became nationalistic, or was divided up by so-called patriotism. That was a very popular song at the time, when France was becoming more and more nationalistic. 


Pick #2: Maurice Chevalier, "Thank Heaven For Little Girls"

Chevalier was one of the many entertainers who had a slightly sketchy history of more or less performing during the Occupation. He certainly did not come out against the occupiers. Unlike, for example, Josephine Baker, who was working for the Resistance, he definitely was not. So after the war, he was in mild disgrace for awhile, and then that kind of cleared up in time for him to sing "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" in Gigi. It was not a song I was listening to writing the book, but it was something about the sketchy, skeezy moral quality of the time that I wanted to get in there. 


Pick #3: Beethoven, String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132

[This] got into the novel because I was listening to it -- I was obsessed with the late quartets for about three months, while I was working.