PARIS: A Love Story. By Kati Marton. Simon & Schuster. 208 pages. $24.
Billed as a “memoir for anyone who has fallen in love in Paris,” this book reads more like a name-dropping travelogue of the politically rich and famous.
In “Paris: A Love Story,” award-winning journalist and author Kati Marton writes of the 2010 death of her second husband, Ambassador Richard Holbrook. After his death, she escapes to Paris where she and Holbrooke first fell in love.
Readers follow the journey through Marton’s early years as a student at the University of Paris, as a war correspondent and through her often troubled marriage to Peter Jennings.
Memoirs are by nature self-absorbed, and Marton has plenty of good stories to tell, but her style leaves readers feeling like outsiders looking in.
Opening with her husband’s unexpected death and Marton’s realization that her life must be reinvented, the book inspires comparison to Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.” While Didion’s memoir examines the profound experience of losing a loved one, Marton seems anxious to avoid the search for meaning, and much of the book is spent on their glorious past.
When explaining her move to Paris she writes, “Richard dreamed of new places for us to explore: Antarctica! The outer islands of Indonesia! Patagonia! But he would also say to our friends, Kati is more Kati in Paris than anywhere else. So Paris remained our place.”
Sixteen pages of black-and-white photos of the author and a series of dignitaries, including Nelson Mandela, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama, occupy the middle of the book, functioning as mirrors of Marton’s own celebrity.
The real tension in the story transpires during Marton’s marriage to Jennings and the push-and-pull between their careers.
“I could hardly believe that this handsome, famous man was in love with me,” she writes. On the fast track to becoming one of the only female journalists for ABC during the “golden age of foreign corresponding,” Marton aborted an unwanted pregnancy because she “wanted to prove to the network that I could handle my job and my relationship with their star reporter.”
Abortions were illegal in Germany where Marton was living, so she flew to Paris and while the pain was excruciating, the experience was never mentioned again.
When she and Jennings finally decided to have children, Marton left broadcasting to be a freelance writer and full-time mother. Here, another opportunity to examine the hard choices and complexity of motherhood and career was disappointingly skipped over.
Pages are filled with Marton’s old letters to her parents, her husband and children. Marton writes of her daily routine of “walking, studying and attending classes” in a style that leaves the reader wondering why this matters. Early on in the book she writes of her struggle to be alone after her husband’s death.
“Why did no one tell me that we have love on loan? People should be told this. It is not the grand romantic moments that forge a couple. ... It is the daily, granular sharing of the most trivial details of life — of little or no interest to anyone else — that forged our bond.”
Unfortunately, Marton has chosen to share too many of those trivial details with her readers.
Reviewer Amy S. Mercer is a writer in Charleston.