The Bad Life: A Memoir
by Frédéric Mitterrand
Translated by Jesse Browner
Soft Skull Press. 308 pages, $16.95
THESE DAYS it seems you can write a memoir in one of two ways: tell your story in chronological fashion (what Holden Caulfield called “all that David Copperfield kind of crap”), or discuss, like a man turning over the objects on his desk, various subjects that reveal the story in an oblique way. The Bad Life, a best-selling memoir by Frédéric Mitterrand, the openly gay minister of culture in the government of Nicholas Sarkozy (and nephew of a past president of France, François Mitterrand), belongs to the second.
The book begins, it’s true, with a chapter called “Childhood,” which caused this reader to grit his teeth, only to discover that it’s not about the author’s early years at all; it’s about his adopting, as an adult, two boys from a poor family in Morocco to give them the advantages Mitterrand had as a child in that emblematically posh neighborhood of Paris, the l6th Arrondissement. And so