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Paris: A Love Story is a contest between a city and a state (of mind) over which one will become the main subject. Kati Marton’s new book doubles as a valentine to the French capital and a réquiem for heartbreak and loss.
The author and newswoman first lived in Paris as a student during the turbulent 60s. She would subsequently return during marriages to the late anchorman Peter Jennings and diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
It was her grief over Holbrooke’s death in 2010 that moved her to write this memoir, as a catharsis. Anyone who has lost so much as a cat will recognize the slow-motion of mourning and rewind of surrender as her memories flicker and glow.
By no means are these all home movies. Some of the most poignant passages replay Marton’s career as a foreign correspondent for ABC News. Though her rocky relationship with Jennings culminated in divorce in 1994, it also scaled ecstatic highs. For all of his insecurities – and attempts to clip her wings – per Marton, her ABC boss and father of her two children also joined her in romantic quests for headline news.
The daughter of two Hungarian reporters has journalism in her blood. Born in Budapest in 1949, she and her family fled to America following the 1956 uprising. Marton recalls the childhood trauma of returning home to find her parents gone; she later learned that they were jailed on false charges of espionage.
Later still, she would discover that her parents were Holocaust survivors. Having been raised Roman Catholic, Marton was stunned to discover her own Jewish roots. Several of her books reflect a deep curiosity about her heritage, including Enemies of the People, about Marton's parents, and The Great Escape, about nine Hungarian Jews who escaped Hitler to become influential world figures.
At 63, she still cops to having a “Hungarian temper,” which calm, sturdy Holbrooke apparently knew how to handle. The then Ambassador to Germany plied his diplomatic skills from their earliest courtship. Swanning into Paris at Christmastime of 1993 as she was leaving Jennings, he swanned out -- with her -- to Chartres and the Loire Valley castles. Five days and many history chats later, the two were clutching hands. She writes of their developing bond, "He said that he had waited a long time for me, and I was for him, and that was that."
Over 17 years of marriage, they would gallivant across continents, nestle in Paris and entertain world luminaries in New York, where Holbrooke was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. As a special envoy for Bill Clinton, he even brought Marton to the Dayton talks concluding the Bosnian War -- and seated her at dinner between antagonists Milosevic and Alija Izetbegovic.
Time and physical separation would take a toll on the perfect couple. Kati admitted to having a brief affair while researching The Great Escape in Hungary. Ever cool in crisis, Holbrooke stayed the course and they forged a new bond. When not in the same airspace, the two would regularly reconnoitre by phone, including during his stint as U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It was one of these long-distance calls that would thrust her into the saddest chapter of her Parisian love story. The seemingly invincible Holbrooke reached Marton from an ambulance hurtling toward a hospital in Washington, D.C., where he had just collapsed. “I feel a pain I have never felt,” he told her in fear. “I am on my way!” she assured him. “Those were my last words to Richard.”
The book opens with a near blow-by-blow account of this calamity and the events leading up to it. While few readers will have garnered sympathy from the likes of Hillary Clinton or Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Marton relays their caring in a way that invites all to share in the shock.
Whether writing Paris helped its bereaved author to heal is unclear. What's certain is her message: "We'll always have Paris."
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