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Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni Sarkozy
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, stands with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at Palais Rohan in Strasbourg, France.
updated 9/17/2010 10:44:01 AM ET 2010-09-17T14:44:01

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.

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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.

More in Books: Obama children’s book already a hit

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Photos: Michelle Obama’s effortless style

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  1. Michelle Obama's effortless style

    The first lady looks as sophisticated in designer dresses as she does in outfits from J. Crew. Take a look at her great style:

    First lady Michelle Obama and her mother Marian Robinson visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai State guest house on March 21, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Andy Wong / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Ping-pong fun

    Michelle Obama plays table tennis at the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to attend colleges overseas, in Beijing, China on March 21, 2014. (Andy Wong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Welcome to China

    Michelle Obama waves as she and her daughter Sasha leave their plane at Capital International Airport in Beijing on March 20, 2014. (Alexander F. Yuan / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Green day

    Vice president Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama, and Irish Prime Mininster Enda Kenny's wife Fionnuala O'Kelly smile during a St. Patrick's Day reception in the East Room of the White House on March 14, 2014. (Ron Sachs / Pool / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. We're green with envy

    Kermit the Frog is welcomed by Michelle Obama at a screening of Disney's "Muppets Most Wanted" on March 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Seeking shades

    President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama make their way to board Air Force One before departing from Homestead Air Reserve Base in Homestead, Florida on March 9, 2014. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pretty prints

    Michelle Obama delivers remarks during s workshop titled "I'm Every Woman: The History of Women in Soul" with (L-R) Grammy Museum Executive Director Robert Santelli, and music artists Melissa Etheridge, Janelle Monae and Patti LaBelle in the State Dining Room at the White House March 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Jump to it

    Michelle Obama sports a chic black jumpsuit during an interview with Jimmy Fallon on Feb. 20, 2014. (NBC; Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pretty as a painting

    Michelle Obama, in a bold print skirt, is escorted by Rose Cameron, CEO and founder of WAT-AAH!, a line of bottled water targeted to kids and teens, as they view the "Taking Back the Streets" art exhibit at the New Museum in New York on Feb. 20. (Richard Drew / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Snow bunny

    Michelle Obama skis at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo. on Feb. 15. This is the third year in a row that Michelle Obama has vacationed in Aspen over the long President's Day weekend. (Chris Council / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Ultimate elegance

    President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, in a dramatic Carolina Herrera ball gown, arrive at a state dinner at the White House on Feb. 11. The dress featured a sheer black top with hand-embroidered and beaded appliques and sleeves that dipped just below the first lady's elbows. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lady in red

    First lady Michelle Obama, French President Francois Hollande, and President Barack Obama wave at the balcony of the White House on Feb. 11. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Deep green

    Michelle Obama, in a hunter green Azzedine Alaïa dress, waves next to U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, who was injured while serving in Afghanistan, prior to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech in Washington on Jan. 28, 2014. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Vision in blue

    First Lady Michelle Obama smiles as she listens to President Barack Obama speak at an event on expanding college opportunity in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on Jan. 16, 2014. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Bold bling

    Michelle Obama wore a festive lucite necklace while speaking about education in underserved communities in the State Dining Room following a screening of the movie "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete" at the White House on Jan. 15, 2014. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: First Lady Michelle Obama Travels to China - Day 2
    Andy Wong / Pool via Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (15) Michelle Obama's effortless style
  2. Image: NBC's Brian Williams looks out onto the Rose Garden from the West Wing's Palm Room. He was preparing for the president's arrival and the start of a day spent reporting a behind-the-scenes documentary at the White House
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    Slideshow (17) Life inside the White House

Video: Bruni book had it wrong; Michele Obama not in hell

  1. Transcript of: Bruni book had it wrong; Michele Obama not in hell

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Even though there are denials on both sides of the Atlantic , there's a remark floating around that's being attributed to first lady Michelle Obama that she may have to live with, for a while. However fairly or unfairly, it'll probably make it's way to the talk shows. It's in a new book about French first lady Carla Bruni . It says that during a private moment, Mrs. Obama told her she hates the job as first lady and that it's hell. Again, both Bruni and the first lady's office are denying it, but you may be hearing it again. The fact is, as the president noted in a speech in Connecticut just today, it is a tough role. A number of first ladies have felt caged in, and as the old saying goes in politics, they weren't the ones elected.

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