- Associated Press - Friday, September 17, 2010

PARIS (AP) - The co-author of a new book about French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy defended his sources Friday amid a media buzz over a passage that cites Michelle Obama as calling life in the White House “hell.”

Mrs. Obama’s spokeswoman has denied the first lady said such a thing, and a spokesman at the French Embassy in Washington said Bruni-Sarkozy “distances herself completely” from the book, which appeared in French bookstores on Thursday.

The unauthorized book, called “Carla et les ambitieux,” or “Carla and the Ambitious Ones,” describes the scene of a March dinner at the White House, during which the two first ladies were purported to have had a conversation in English in which they compared notes on their experiences as wives of presidents.

The book claims Mrs. Obama said, “Don’t even talk to me about it, it’s hell. I can’t stand it.”

Author Yves Derai stood by the explosive dialogue, insisting it was based on interviews with “reliable sources” _ though he declined to name them, in accordance, he said, with his journalistic principles.

“In France, we have something called the ‘protection of sources,’ so I’m not repeating what Carla or others told me,” Derai told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. “We’ve put in the book the narratives and the information that we verified and compiled and we totally assume responsibility for it as independent journalists.”

Derai said he had interviewed about 50 people for the book and that Bruni-Sarkozy herself accorded the co-authors several interviews totaling about 10 hours. But he stressed the book was by no means an “official biography.”

The French first lady “didn’t read it (before publication) nor did she have the right to correct or vet it,” said Derai, an investigative journalist who co-authored the book along with a Michael Darmon, a political journalist for France-2 television.

Derai acknowledged the French word used in the passage, “enfer,” might not precisely correspond directly with the English word “hell.”

“I don’t know, maybe translated into English, hell is Dante’s Inferno where they burn sinners, but in French it’s really a rather common expression to say that sometimes it’s just ‘a real drag,’” Derai explained. He did not say what the original word allegedly pronounced by Mrs. Obama was.

Carla and the Ambitious Ones” is the second book published this week on Bruni-Sarkozy, an Italian-born heiress and former supermodel turned singer known for her romantic liaisons with rich and famous men including rock icons Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger.

Carla: A Secret Life,” which came out Wednesday, chronicles her life from her lonesome childhood in Turin, Italy, through her years on the catwalk through her functions as French first lady.