Could "Paris: A Love Story" be the antidote to the hype surrounding "Fifty Shades of Grey"?
Could author and journalist Kati Marton's memoir of love found in Paris –and then lost – stand as a template for a marriage most people desire but rarely find?
Unfortunately no. Human weakness can sideswipe even the most solid relationship, torpedoing any hope of a Hollywood ending. But kudos to Marton for a beautifully written ode to her late second husband, the tireless and highly regarded U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
If only she hadn't been so honest about her shortcomings.
The book begins with Holbrooke's agonizing death from a torn aorta in December 2010. After the "bottomless grief" of facing life without her mate of 15 years. She returned to Paris, where she and Holbrooke had found midlife happiness together, to reminisce and write.
As Marton sifts through the seminal events in her life that brought her to this point, "Paris: A Love Story" becomes much more than a widow's journey. The memoir traces her roots as the Budapest-born child of two Hungarian journalists who fled to the U.S. during the Hungarian Revolution — a trauma that instilled a drive in Marton to bring world events into focus as a network foreign correspondent. It also opens the curtain on her turbulent marriage to the late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings.
The TV news track that led her to Jennings actually began on the local level as an investigative reporter at (what was then) the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, WCAU.
Marton's pattern of getting eclipsed by someone whose wattage burned brighter than her own, including Jennings and, later, Holbrooke, actually began in Philadelphia. She may very well have broken some great stories, but relatively few Philadelphians watched. During the early '70s, their eyes (and mine) were on a cool blond reporter and part-time anchor at a competing station by the name of Jessica Savitch.
But the networks took notice, and in 1977 the multilingual Marton "finally reached the Mount Everest of broadcast journalism" when she became bureau chief in West Germany for ABC News. She met Jennings, then the head of ABC's London bureau, on her way to Bonn. By their second date they were talking children. She writes, "And so began a passionate and tormented love story that lasted fifteen years."
To appease Jennings' fits of jealousy over her male producers and insecurity over his lack of a formal education, Marton quit the network to be a stay-at-home mom to their two children. But Jennings continued to "retreat inside an icy shell of hurt and disappointment" and became difficult to reach emotionally.
Marton writes that 10 years into her marriage to Jennings, she fell in love with a man who "did not find me glib or overly ambitious, just funny." Although Marton doesn't reveal the lover, published accounts point to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post.
Jennings forgave her indiscretion and they remained together for another five years. The inevitable split came around Christmas of 1993 while Marton vacationed in Paris. Enter Richard Holbrooke.
"It was the purest courtship of my life," writes Marton. After a first date to the Loire Valley, the journalist-turned-writer and Holbrooke, then the ambassador to Germany, burned up the phone lines between Bonn and Paris. Holbrooke had lived with news anchor Diane Sawyer for seven years in the '80s and told Marton he was "too old for that now."
And so he and Marton married in her childhood home of Budapest in 1995.
Why, then, did Marton fall into the arms of another man, a "handsome, witty" Hungarian, on the eve of her 10th wedding anniversary to a loving and kind Holbrooke? Another pattern repeated. And, like Jennings before him, the ever-diplomatic Holbrooke forgave Marton, declaring she was still "the only one" for him.
Paris comes across as the only unscathed object of Marton's affection. Her descriptions of the City of Light, written in short, declarative sentences that move the narrative quickly, paint a picture that's hard to resist.
So grab a baguette, sip a glass of chardonnay and curl up with the private details of a public marriage.
As Carol Jasen, Carol Crissey Nigrelli was the longtime anchor of Ch.4 News and is a member of the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Paris: A Love Story
By Kati Marton?
Simon & Schuster?199 pages, $25