She’ll Always Have Paris

Kati Marton (photo by Billy Bustamente)

By Annette Hinkle

How does someone pick up the pieces and make a new life after the death of a spouse? Memories are everywhere — in closets, on the faces of friends and in neighborhoods that were once a favorite place to stroll.

Perhaps no one understands that better than author Kati Marton. The former NPR and ABC correspondent was married to two towering public figures — Peter Jennings, anchor for ABC World News Tonight (with whom she had two children), and Richard Holbrooke, former US Ambassador to the UN, an Assistant Secretary of State and the diplomat who brokered the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 which ended the war in Bosnia.

In December 2010, while serving as US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Holbrooke died unexpectedly from an aortic dissection. He and Marton had been married 17 years. Holbrooke’s death left a huge void in the world of diplomacy, and Marton mourned publicly with thousands of people, including heads of state from around the world.

But for Marton, putting life back together again in private was a much more solitary pursuit.

While going through boxes in preparation for a move from the New York City apartment in which she had lived for 26 years, she came across writings from her past. They included letters to her parents written when she was a student in France, correspondence with Jennings, whom she met in her 20s as an ABC reporter in Europe, and memories of her years with Holbrooke.

The contents of those long forgotten boxes took Marton back to an earlier life and helped her construct the one that now propels her forward — along the way, she wrote a best-selling memoir — “Paris: A Love Story.”

“I didn’t know the book would turn out the way it did. It unfolded with the happy discovery of the letters from my 18-year-old self,” explains Marton. “It’s not really about Richard or Peter, though it was triggered entirely by Richard’s unexpected death. In writing this book, in a way I reclaimed who I am.”

Marton will be a guest speaker at the Friends of the John Jermain Library’s annual Book and Author Luncheon at The American Hotel this Sunday, December 2 at noon. In her book, though Marton details her years of extensive travels and meetings with powerful world figures, the City of Light serves as a steady backdrop throughout.

It’s the place where Marton has returned time and time again — a city literally and metaphorically midway between her native Budapest (where her journalist parents were imprisoned under Soviet rule in the 1950s) and her busy life in New York. Paris is where Marton blossomed as a student, it’s a place where she and Jennings lived during their marriage, and it was the city in which she and Holbrooke fell in love.

Paris is also where Marton has since rediscovered herself.

“The city hasn’t really changed that much – especially where I live,” says Marton who now has an apartment in the Latin Quarter. “The neighborhood has a timeless quality to it. At a time in my life when everything seems to be shifting and changing, it’s very reassuring to be in a place that seems the same as it was when I was 18.”

“There are aspects of me that I really tap into there,” she adds. “The love of beauty, the hunger of experience, the love of life. I think I was hit by that the first time I was in Paris because it was the place where I was on my own for the first time.”

“Richard used to say ‘Kati is more Kati in Paris than anywhere else,’” recalls Marton. “He was onto something.”

December 13 will mark the second anniversary of Richard Holbrooke’s death, and while Marton feels well prepared for her future, it’s one that will always be marked by a sense of sadness that didn’t exist before.

“It’s so hard but I do feel I’m in a different place. I feel he’s with me all the time,” she says. “We really were full partners, in the best sense. I’m very lucky to have had 17 years of that. He gave me tremendous confidence. He didn’t think there was anything I shouldn’t try.”

Joining Kati Marton as guest speaker at the library’s luncheon will be Michael Shnayerson, author of five non-fiction books and contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Tickets are $50. To reserve, call Chris Tice at 725-3803.