Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Grief therapy in the City of Light
Sometimes, love isn't all it's cracked up to be. At least, that is the case with American author and journalist Kati Marton's eighth book.
Marton claims "all stories about Paris are love stories. And so is mine."
Hers is told as a memoir about her late husband, Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador and special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died of a heart attack in late 2010 at age 69.
Writing the book was undoubtedly a necessary catharsis for Marton, and those who have had the misfortune to lose a partner may find some common ground here.
Unfortunately, there's not much else to engage most readers on a deeper level. Paris: A Love Story is essentially a timeline of Marton's marriages -- to the late ABC News correspondent Peter Jennings and later, to Holbrooke -- and her career as a journalist.
For many years, Marton, now 63, was a foreign news correspondent for ABC News, where she met Jennings, whom she married in 1979 and divorced in 1993.
She is currently the director for the Committee to Protect Journalists and she serves on the Human Rights Watch board of directors.
Marton first went to France to study as a young woman, and when she met Paris, it was love at first sight. She spent time there with Jennings, and it was the halfway point between Washington and Afghanistan where she and Holbrooke met up to steal a few days together.
Paris is also where Marton retreats to grieve and lick her wounds after his death. The couple had been wed for 15 years.
To her credit, Marton does capture some of the magical qualities of the City of Light and its people, and there are several charming portraits of neighbourhood characters.
"The waiter at Café Le Rostand... spins his metal tray in the air, making a half-dozen tiny cups tremble, as if he were a circus performer," she writes.
"Pirouetting between tables, he simultaneously slides my credit card into his little machine and leans in to the next table. 'Je vous écoute, monsieur,' he says, listening intently to the order that he will remember quite precisely."
Still, the title is misleading. Lovely as they are, Marton's observations are often overshadowed by more stirring material, such as her many revelations about the Canadian-born Jennings, who died of lung cancer in 2005.
After an uncomfortable first meeting, Marton recalls promptly labelling him a "total jerk." These nuggets are arguably more interesting than another long-winded lesson on French history or a description of Notre Dame.
Marton can't seem to decide where her focus lies, and the love story is frequently sidetracked by seemingly irrelevant people and events. Her brush with sexual harassment as a young reporter feels out of place, as do some of the gratuitous stories about famous friends and politicians.
What is clear is that during her life as a young student, through her tumultuous marriage to Jennings and later happiness with Holbrooke, Paris has remained for Marton a safe harbour from the often cruel reality of the outside world.
In her words, "Paris is the place where good things seem to happen to me."
Marton's abiding love for Paris, and for Holbrooke, is evident throughout her book. But it often comes dangerously close to sounding like just another news story.
Lindsay McKnight works in the arts in Winnipeg.
Paris: A Love Story
By Kati Marton
Simon & Schuster, 199 pages, $24
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 1, 2012 J9
(1 of 23 articles for this week)