Books: The Bad Life
On a controversial memoir from France's Minister of Culture and Communication.
Some controversy has emerged around The Bad Life, a memoir written by Frédéric Mitterrand. Published in France as La Mauvaise Vie in 2005, it has sold over 250,000 copies to date. Known mainly for his career in television—and as the nephew of former French president François Mitterrand—the author was appointed French Minister of Culture and Communication in June 2009 by Nicolas Sarkozy. Then, in October, he was targeted by Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front party, who quoted the book out of context on French television, accusing him of paying underage boys for sex in Bangkok and calling for his resignation.
Mitterrand defended himself shortly thereafter, acknowledging that he had indeed paid for sex, but only with unambiguously consenting men of legal age, adding, "I absolutely condemn sex tourism, which is a disgrace. I condemn pedophilia, in which I have never participated in any way. The book is no way an apology for sex tourism, even if one chapter is a journey through that hell, with all the fascination that hell can inspire."
A fresh chapter emerged earlier this week, however, when Soft Skull Press—publisher of the first English translation of The Bad Life, slated for release on April 20—received news from Mitterrand's French publisher that his planned US book tour in April would be canceled. No explanation was given other than that it was for political reasons. Soft Skull found that odd, to say the least. When I spoke to Carrie Dieringer, a publicity associate at the publishing house, she was as baffled about this suppression as I was. "Everything was put in motion," she said, referring to the planned book tour and media coverage. "They knew everything was happening. To cancel things abruptly just doesn’t make a lot of sense."
Soft Skull stands behinds Mitterrand's memoir as a "complex, elegant, and introspective work," and thank goodness for that. The Bad Life is a stunningly candid and beautiful book. Described by its author as an "autobiography which is half real and half dreamed," it recounts his life as a child of privilege born into Paris's haut bourgeois sixteenth arrondissement, his experience of homosexuality, and a number of deeply felt personal relationships. Much of this is set in a social milieu of movie stars, politicians, renowned artists, and other public figures. Haute société gossip, however, takes a back burner to a fine literary sensibility that examines life with lucidity, perceptiveness, and humanity.