PARIS (AP) _ She has her father's smile and his passion for books. Now, with her first novel, Francois Mitterrand's illegitimate daughter is courting what she never knew while he was alive: fame.

In the past week, 23-year-old Mazarine Pingeot has made the cover of one of France's top weekly magazines, appeared in a one-hour prime time TV interview and won warm reviews for her book, ``First Novel.''

Many French seem fascinated by this long-hidden, self-possessed woman, whose very existence once was virtually a state secret. They are snapping up copies of her book, which is prominently displayed throughout the country.

``I'm sure it's well written,'' said lawyer Jean-Pierre Touati, before buying the novel in a Champs-Elysees bookstore. ``She's the daughter of a great man who also knew how to write very well.''

Mitterrand publicly acknowledged Mazarine only in 1994, after Paris Match magazine published a photo of him strolling in the Latin Quarter with his only daughter.

But Mazarine has said her father was very much present throughout her life, helping guide her studies and talking with her about books and philosophy.

The strongest public image of Mazarine until now was the poignant moment when she and her mother, Mitterrand's longtime mistress Anne Pingeot, joined the president's family in walking behind the coffin at his 1996 funeral.

Two years later, after suffering what she says was constant harassment by paparazzi, Mazarine is trying to create her own identity.

``I have nothing to hide anymore,'' she told the left-leaning weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, which put her on the cover this week.

Mazarine's first television interview was broadcast Sunday night on France's TF1 station, a few weeks after it was filmed in southern France. TF1 said 4.5 million French viewers, or 28 percent of the audience, tuned in.

A graduate of France's most prestigious college, the Ecole Normale Superieure, Mazarine fielded the toughest questions in the interview with aplomb. She responded to veiled references to her illegitimacy, for example, by saying everyone has problems in life and she wasn't going to dwell on hers.

Sales of the book, which appeared in stores last Thursday and is dedicated to her father, have been spectacular.

``First Novel'' already has sold out its first print run of 50,000, and publisher Julliard has sent out three subsequent print runs of 10,000 books in the past six days.

No other postwar French leader except Charles de Gaulle elicits greater interest in France than the enigmatic Mitterrand, with his secret loves, his intellectual aspirations and hints of wartime collaboration.

The plot of Mazarine's novel, a love story between two young Parisian intellectuals, is less interesting than the clues it provides to Mazarine's true-life relationship with her famous father.

``Her father taught her tolerance and loyalty,'' she writes of her fictional heroine, Agathe, a name meaning ``good'' in ancient Greek. ``Her mother, beauty. Together they taught her about freedom.''

``Her parents were longtime lovers, unmarried, leading their own lives, even while loving each other more than anything,'' she writes. ```They taught her that love was the only tie that triumphs over looks and judgments, convention and taboos.''

Readers are likely to learn more about the French president from such references than in the latest book by his wife, Danielle, which is competing with Mazarine's novel for shelf space.

The young author is being compared to some of France's greatest women writers of the century: Francoise Sagan, Marguerite Duras and Simone de Beauvoir, another philosophy major-turned-novelist.

Le Monde said she demonstrated ``rare ambition,'' and used ``complex narration.'' Nouvel Observateur called the book ``fresh'' and said it had ``weight.''

But critic Josyane Savigneau, in the latest edition of the weekly literary supplement of Le Monde, warned of prematurely placing her in the pantheon of French female writers.

``Don't judge her. Let her blossom,'' Savigneau wrote. ``It's the sequel to her `First Novel' that will deliver the real truth.''