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Kati Marton, Recalling 'Paris' With Love And Longing

Kati Marton's career milestones include a stint as host of an NPR foreign-affairs program and contributions to the development of <em>All Things Considered.</em>
Billy Bustamante
Kati Marton's career milestones include a stint as host of an NPR foreign-affairs program and contributions to the development of All Things Considered.

Kati Marton's new book is called Paris: A Love Story — but it's really more of a book about love and loss than one about the City of Light.

Marton, formerly a correspondent for ABC News and NPR, has written about her remarkable parents, who were Holocaust survivors and reporters in Hungary, and came to the United States after the uprising in Budapest. And she's tried to solve the mysteries around what happened to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who risked his life to rescue Jews during World War II; and George Polk, the American journalist who was killed covering a civil war in Greece.

Yet Marton's name has also appeared in columns over the years because she was married to Peter Jennings, the late ABC News anchor, for almost 15 years; their occasional trials, strayings and separations became items. Jennings died in 2005; by then Marton was married to diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Their 15-year marriage ended with his death in 2010.

Many of her happiest and most vexing moments were spent with those men in Paris — and Marton tells NPR's Scott Simon that writing her new memoir was a kind of healing experience.

"It's also made solid presences out of the missing people in my life," Marton explains. "Richard, particularly, because of course I spent the last 17 years of my life with Richard, who was a one-of-a-kind personality. He was also a very good husband, and a very loving one."

Holbrooke was famously brilliant, blustery, emphatic, passionate, opinionated — a man who spent his days puncturing bureaucrats or upbraiding the likes of Slobodan Milosevic.

"He had extremely high standards, for himself and for his wife," Marton acknowledges. But he was a calming influence at home, she says.

"I've got a pretty quick Hungarian temper, and he just had such a way of deflating my emotional outbursts," she says. "He was actually one of the calmest-in-crisis people that I've ever known."

In Paris, Marton recounts the experience of accompanying Holbrooke to the negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, that would end the Bosnian War. Holbrooke asked her to sit between rival leaders Milosevic and Alija Izetbegovic at dinner.

"He said, 'Make them talk to each other,' " Marton recalls. "And of course, a few days before, these two warlords had been trying to gouge out each other's eyes, so that was a challenge."

When Holbrooke fell ill, Marton received calls of concern from two leaders Holbrooke was often at odds with — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan.

"I think they understood that he was throwing himself body and soul into the work," says Marton. "I was attending Mass with my friend Samantha Power, and Karzai's call came through, so I stepped outside. And after 17 years with Holbrooke, I knew better than to waste a moment with a man that he was trying to negotiate with. So I said to him, 'Mr. President, for Richard, Afghanistan is more than an assignment. He's absolutely passionate about your country and about your people, and committed to finding some kind of a solution to this.' And I thought I heard emotion when he said, 'We need him back here.'

"And that [was] followed a nanosecond later by a call from the President of Pakistan," Marton continues. "He said, 'Kati, I told him he was overdoing it. He was traveling to the most awful places and crawling inside those tents in refugee camps, and I told him, 'Richard, you're not as young as you think.' So it was a real human-to-human conversation. And whatever anybody says about President Zardari's weaknesses, for me, he was a human being."

First and foremost, Marton says, her memoir is "about trying to grab onto life after loss."

"Because I have a keener sense now than ever of how elusive life is, and how you can't count on anything, and how important it is to live in the present," she says. "And I hope that my readers will also draw comfort from the fact that there are other lives beyond the one that one loses."

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