TORONTO – Kati Marton makes no apologies for her warts-and-all account of her marriages to Canadian-born newsman Peter Jennings and U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke in “Paris: A Love Story.”
“There’s no point in writing a memoir if you’re going to be fake,” the former television journalist said in a recent interview.
“The reader gets that right away. (My book is) an attempt to deal honestly with people who are very human, and just because they’re famous and just because they’re high achievers doesn’t mean that they’re not made of the same human stuff as the rest of us.”
An acclaimed author whose previous books have dealt with history and politics, Marton’s “Paris: A Love Story” is an intensely personal tale that examines how she dealt with the sudden 2010 death of Holbrooke, who served as United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The couple’s frequent meeting place was a pied a terre in Paris, and Marton, 63, uses the city as a touchstone from which to look back on her life, including her student days there, her career as a reporter, her stormy relationship with Jennings (who died of lung cancer in 2005) and her ultimate happiness with Holbrooke.
She is often brutally frank in her recollections of Jennings, whom she met at ABC’s London bureau in 1978. Soon, she writes, they began “a passionate and tormented love story that lasted 15 years” and produced two children.
The Ottawa-raised anchorman is described by his former wife as an “insecure man” who had issues because of his “emotionally chilly mother.” Marton writes of an abortion, an affair she had 10 years into their marriage and the incident after a dinner party that finally convinced her to leave him.
She makes no apologies for such personal revelations.
“I’ve heard from (his closest friends) and they thought (the book) was beautiful. Nobody had delusions about who Peter was, the good and the bad…. There’s no one who thought this man was a paragon of perfection just because he happened to be the brilliant broadcaster that he was,” she said.
“This is my book and once my children â€” Peter’s children â€” said ‘(it) rings true,’ that was all (I needed).”
Although she describes blissfully happy times with Holbrooke, whom she married in 1995, so too is she candid about that relationship.
At one point, Marton writes, she “let a friendship go too far,” something she describes as “the biggest mistake of her life.” The couple worked through the marital crisis.
Says Marton: “I just think it’s so unreal to expect people, especially people married for a long time, not to encounter a bump or two along the way.”
“Paris: A Love Story” is also engaging for its portrayal of the glittering circles in which Marton and Holbrooke moved.
She writes that when she briefly left the Washington hospital where Holbrooke had surgery to repair the dissected aorta that led to his death, she received a call from the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Then there was another call from President Obama. After Holbrooke died and she packed up the house with her family, former president Bill Clinton stopped by to settle into an easy chair and spin tales about her late husband.
While there have been several high-profile “grief memoirs” in recent years â€” including Joan Didion’s “A Year of Magical Thinking” and “A Widow’s Story” by Joyce Carol Oates â€” Marton insists her book doesn’t fall into that category.
In fact, she says she was partly inspired to write “Paris: A Love Story” because of a note she received from Didion following Holbrooke’s death.
“She wrote to me saying … ‘I woke up this morning and I thought about you and all the mornings you will wake up and think about Richard.’ I thought: ‘You know that’s very sweet but I don’t want to live the rest of my life sad,'” she said.
“So, this book, yes, is about loss, because sooner or later loss finds all of us but it’s about getting to the other side of loss, it’s about not living in grief. It’s about bringing the lost â€” the missing, as I call them â€” along with me, but embracing life at the same time â€” maybe embracing it more fully than ever.”
“Paris: A Love Story” is in stores now.