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Paris: A Love Story

Paris: A Love Story

by Kati Marton


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This New York Times bestseller is a memoir for anyone who has ever fallen in love in Paris or with Paris.

This is a memoir for anyone who has ever fallen in love in Paris, or with Paris.

PARIS: A LOVE STORY is for anyone who has ever had their heart broken or their life upended.

In this remarkably honest and candid memoir, award-winning journalist and distinguished author Kati Marton narrates an impassioned and romantic story of love, loss, and life after loss. Paris is at the heart of this deeply moving account. Marton paints a vivid portrait of an adventuresome life in the stream of history. Inspirational and deeply human, Paris: A Love Story will touch every generation.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451691559
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 03/12/2013
Pages: 212
Sales rank: 226,314
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Kati Marton is the New York Times bestselling author of nine books, including True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy and Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. An award-winning former NPR correspondent and ABC News bureau chief in Germany, she was born in Hungary and lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Paris: A Love Story

  • Like a human snowplow, I surge against the flow of chanting, banner-waving students pouring into the boulevard St.-Germain. I am determined to get to the Café de Flore before Richard does. My husband has flown all night from Kabul on a military plane. I am merely crossing from the fifth into the sixth arrondissement. As he shuttles between Washington, Kabul, and Islamabad, we have little time together; minutes matter. But this is the Latin Quarter, and it is October, the season of student manifestations. Les manifs are a routine feature of my Parisian neighborhood, and I usually enjoy their high-spirited revolutionary theater. Not today. The students have blocked traffic on St.-Germain and prevented Richard’s car from reaching our apartment on the rue des Écoles.

    Hot and sweaty, I arrive at the terrace of the Flore. Richard is already there and, as usual these days, he is on the phone. As he is looking up, his smile momentarily lifts travel fatigue from his features. “You’re late!” he says, a hand covering the phone. He hangs up, and we kiss. Then we exhale in unison from sheer relief that we are together—and in Paris! That is how it has been for the past two years. Days stolen from a devouring job.

    Richard takes out his frayed wallet to pay for our citrons pressés. “See,” he says, “it’s still here,” a faded Polaroid of the two of us in the Tuileries Garden taken in 1994, wearing matching expressions of goofy happiness. “And I still have this,” he says, proudly extracting the torn corner of a phone message pad with my sister’s Paris telephone number. In 1993, he tracked me down with that number. His amulette. “You are a ridiculously sentimental man,” I tell him.

    Holding hands, we navigate between the green street cleaning machines that are already vacuuming up the debris of the street protest, as we make our way to the rue des Écoles. We have one night together. He will fly to Brussels the next day for a conference he has called on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    On this balmy fall afternoon, we are not thinking about that. It always feels right to meet in the city where we began our life together. Paris is also roughly midway between Washington and the world’s bleakest conflict zone, Richard’s diplomatic beat. Climbing the narrow, creaky stairs to our pied-à-terre reminds us of other lives we have lived—and lives we planned still to live. In Paris, we wrap our little apartment around ourselves like a blanket, and keep the world outside, barely leaving our village tucked in the shadow of the Pantheon. Tonight we have to.

    I am in Paris not only to see my husband but also to launch the French edition of my new book. My book party at the American Embassy is the next night, and it will be the first such event that Richard will not attend. On this, our only evening together, we are dining with Ambassador Charles Rivkin and his wife, Susan Tolson, the hosts of my book event.

    Entering the Left Bank restaurant a few hours later, we smile at the sight of a giant poster of my book cover on the glass front door. Several diners acknowledge Richard’s presence with discreet nods. He and I exchange looks of mutual pleasure and pride.

    I recall a lurking feeling that things were going too well for us last year. My new book had the best reviews I ever had and I had been named a National Book Critics Circle finalist. Our children were leading productive lives, Lizzie working for the United Nations in Haiti, Chris writing his first book, Richard’s sons, David and Anthony, grown, with beautiful children of their own. Richard had the toughest assignment of his career, but it was work he loved.

    I am not a prayerful person. But I recall praying in mid-2010, Please God, don’t let anything bad happen to us. This is my superstitious Hungarian side, that you are punished if you are too happy. When my late-night fears circled, my first thought was for my children. My husband was indestructible. He would always be there to pick up the pieces.

    The distant war reaches out for Richard even during dinner. His phone rings and he leaves the table to talk. His soufflé—the restaurant’s specialty—is cold and flat when he returns. His phone rings again and he answers again. This time I scold him. “You are being rude.” He glowers at me and squeezes my hand hard. “You have no idea what’s going on,” he answers. “There is always something going on,” I protest. The ambassador notes Richard’s grip and shoots his wife a look. My husband catches himself. “Try this.” He offers me a forkful of his freshly remade cheese soufflé. A peace offering. I shake my head. “Oh please, it’s so good,” he coaxes me. I relent and he does not answer the next call.

    Walking home from the rue de Sèvres, we stop in front of the beautiful Romanesque church of St.-Germain-des-Prés, which anchors this neighborhood. But his phone rings again and I am left to remember alone when I first learned about Romanesque churches from Richard, seventeen years ago, when we fell in love in this city.

    •   •   •

    I get up early the next morning. He appears a few hours later, looking sheepish and like an unkempt boy. “You are so disciplined,” he says, finding me with my nose in a book, taking notes. “I have to be,” I answer. “I am not as quick as you. Come,” I say, patting the couch where I am sprawled. “Let’s read together.” Richard has two books in his briefcase, which have traveled back and forth to Afghanistan with him for months: Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and John le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor. “No, I’m going to buy you a new outfit for your book party,” he announces.

    Both books are still on his nightstand in the rue des Écoles—unfinished.

    Shopping in Paris is one of our rituals. It is the only place in the world Richard enjoys shopping. Our closets are full of Parisian purchases spanning the last decade and a half. In a chic Right Bank boutique, I parade several beautiful suits and dresses. Richard looks up from the phone and nods at the velvet suit I am modeling. “That color looks good on you,” he says. “C’est aubergine, monsieur,” the saleslady interjects. Richard has spotted some shoes of the same shade and, still on the phone, signals the lady to bring those, too. I decline the cashmere overcoat, the color of cream, that he drapes on my shoulder. “Let’s get a coffee,” I say, our time together nearly up.

    On the rue de Rivoli, we squeeze into a crowded café terrace, Richard looking for shade, me for a sunny spot. “I’m sorry I can’t stay for your book party,” he says. “That’s the end of your perfect attendance record for four books,” I answer. “But you know I came just to be with you,” he says. “It won’t always be like this,” he promises. The black embassy car is at the curb; the driver is holding the door open. We kiss. It is our last time together in Paris.

    From the café on the rue de Rivoli it is a short stroll to the W. H. Smith bookstore, where I now head. On the front table I see Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars. I buy a copy and head back out into the October sunshine. At the Tuileries Garden, across the street, I pull up a wrought-iron chair and flip to the index. Holbrooke, R.: a great many listings. I turn to the one that also lists me. A wave of anger and disbelief washes over me as I read. According to Woodward, the president soured on Richard when my husband asked him to call him Richard, not Dick, at the ceremony appointing him special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “For Kati,” Richard explained, “who is in the audience, and who doesn’t like ‘Dick.’”

    How could the president—who once requested that his friends not call him “Barry”—hold this against Richard? I am too agitated to sit for another minute in the sunny gardens. Embarrassed that I made such a big deal of my preference for Richard over Dick, a fact I made clear to him the minute we met, in 1985. Angry that such a trivial matter would turn the president against the man he just assigned his toughest foreign policy job. And then, as I head toward the Seine and home, I am overwhelmed by love for a man who would use his precious one-on-one with the commander in chief to ask a favor, for his wife! No wonder he never mentioned the Woodward book, nor brought a copy home. He was trying to protect me—as always. I have an urge to run after the limousine speeding him now to a military base outside Paris—to tell him I love him, one more time.

    •   •   •

    Aside from my superstitious fear that things were going too well for us, there were no signs, no portents of tragedy looming. He played tennis over Thanksgiving weekend in Southampton. We did a marathon of movies, his favorite pastime. But if I believed in signs, there was one. As Richard packed to return to Washington on that Sunday, he searched frantically for his wallet. We looked in all the usual places, emptied all pockets in his closet, and moved the bed and chest of drawers. No sign. Oh well, he said, it’ll turn up. It always has.

    I returned to New York, Richard to Washington. Every time he called, he asked if his wallet had turned up. There was no money in it. He had already canceled his credit cards and replaced his security passes. Still, he was agitated that it had not turned up, as it always had in the past. Why are you so upset? I finally asked him. “It’s the picture of us in the Tuileries, and your sister’s telephone number,” he said. “I’ve had them since 1994.” The wallet has still not turned up. Like Richard, it disappeared.

    He disappeared. That is how it seems to me. I had assumed that death would be a gradual transition, a passage after long illness, and sad, unhurried good-byes. Not a midlife thunderclap.

    One and a half hours before his collapse we were making our Christmas plans on the phone. We were finally getting away. I made him laugh when I described an incident in the news about an overzealous Homeland Security agent at LaGuardia, accused of groping by a diplomat we did not particularly like. An international incident was in the making—though compared to the life-and-death issues on which Richard spent every waking hour, a minor one. “Oh, it feels so good to laugh,” Richard said. Just one more week, I said. “Well, don’t bother coming to Washington this weekend,” he said. “I’ll be at the White House for the president’s year-end review. Got to go meet with David Axelrod at the White House, then Hillary at State. Love you.”

    Love you, too.

    When he called an hour and a half later I barely recognized his voice. “I feel a pain I have never felt,” he said from the ambulance, en route to the George Washington University Hospital emergency room. This voice of deep pain was not one I had ever heard. “I have no feeling in my legs,” he said. There was fear in my husband’s voice. “I am on my way!” I shouted over the siren’s wail. Those were my last words to Richard.

  • What People are Saying About This

    Diane von Furstenberg

    “A great read—the lightness of love, the drama of war and sudden death—with Paris in the background.”

    Barbara Walters

    “I stayed up last night and read this book cover to cover. I can’t remember the last time I did that. It is wonderful—touching, romantic and honest—and oh, how it made me want to go to Paris!”

    Newsweek/The Daily Beast - Susan Cheever

    “Like . . . Didion, Joyce Carol Oates. . . . The book, short and intimate, reads like the wind from the urgency of the opening scene.

    Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Paris - A Love Story includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kati Marton. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


    Paris has been a significant place for journalist Kati Marton throughout her life. She first landed in the City of Light in the fall of 1967 as a bright-eyed student and soon discovered the art of Utrillo, the films of Godard, and the music of Dvorak. She also learned of political turmoil and unrest during the student uprisings of 1968. Ten years later, Kati returned to Paris as a foreign correspondent for ABC News. This time the city was a place to fulfill her ambition and facilitate her career. She met the dashing and charismatic Peter Jennings and embarked on a passionate and tumultuous love affair and then marriage. When Kati next headed to Paris she was in the midst of a painful divorce from Peter, and she met Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the lasting love of her life. Through the glamour and the heartache and the successes and failures, Paris has been Kati Marton’s touchstone—a place of new beginnings, a place of passions and pleasures, a place to rejuvenate, and a place to connect with her true, best self.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1) Kati writes of discovering art and music as a young person in Paris. Is there any piece of art or music that moved you when you first encountered it or that has made a lasting impression?

    2) During Kati’s passionate early love affair with Peter Jennings she did reckless things to be with him, like traveling from Amman to Jerusalem to have dinner (p. 77). Have you ever done anything reckless or extreme in the name of love?

    3) Does Kati’s job as a foreign correspondent sound exciting to you? Is it a lifestyle you would enjoy?

    4) Is there any city or place that you love or that was as formative for you as Paris has been for Kati?

    5) Have you ever had a romance that was fuelled or challenged by the commitment to career in the way that Kati and Peter’s was? Have you ever had to choose between ambition and love?

    6) While in Budapest writing an article for The Atlantic, Kati discovers she is Jewish. Do you know the story of your own ancestry? Does your family or anyone you know have a story of discovering something surprising about their heritage?

    7) Once Kati has children with Peter, she finds it tough to balance work with full-time motherhood. Have you had to negotiate that balance? How have you made it work?

    8) Richard told Kati that he knew for years that she was just right for him and that he waited for her and anticipated the dissolution of her marriage (p. 117). Have you known any love like this? Do you or anyone you know have a similar story of knowing when a person was the perfect match?

    9) Do you think that the personal qualities that made Richard such a skilled diplomat also made him a good romantic/life partner?

    10) Kati writes of having specific shops and restaurants that were hers and Richard’s favorite places, places they frequented and thought of as theirs. Do you have any such place that you think of as especially belonging to you and a partner?

    11) In dealing with the situation in Bosnia with Milosevic, Kati recalls Richard accepting for the first time that there is true evil in the world (p. 131). Do you agree?

    12) Have you been to Paris? Does Kati characterize it the way you would? Do you agree or disagree with any of her characterizations of Parisians or their culture?

    13) When Kati returns to Paris after Richard’s death she spends a lot of time in cafes writing. She says cafes are “the finest places for people alone not to feel lonely” (p. 181). Do you agree? Do you have places where you go when alone so as not to feel lonely?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1) Read one of the authors Kati often quotes on Paris: Montaigne, Hemingway, or Proust. Discuss their portraits of Paris and of humanity.

    2) Find a recipe for croissants, baguette, or any other favorite French dish and bake or cook!

    3) Get out a map of Paris and pinpoint some of the spots Kati enjoyed as a student and with Peter and Richard.

    4) Interview your parents or grandparents about your own family history. Use the tools on the PBS website to delve into your ancestry: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/facesofamerica/resources/trace-your-family-history/32/

    A Conversation with Kati Marton

    1) How were the professional cultures of ABC and NPR different?

    The NPR culture was young and informal and there was plenty of scope for rapid advancement. Within a few weeks of being hired as a researcher I was handed a tape recorder and told to cover a news briefing at the State Department. Thus, I became All Things Considered’s first diplomatic correspondent. I was able to do long interviews with newsmakers – I mean half an hour long if it was interesting enough. It was a wonderful, wide open place where you felt the thrill of being part of something new that you could help to shape. I was in my early twenties and I was having the time of life while still working on a graduate degree in International Relations at GW University. It was a whole different scene at ABC News. This was a well-established organization, top heavy with super stars like Barbara Walters and Peter Jennings (my future husband). I was the newest and least experienced foreign correspondent and I lived day and night at the mercy of the New York assignment desk. It was a highly competitive environment and not an ideal place to be conducting a passionate love affair with the network’s soon-to-be star anchor. But I covered some amazing stories, including Civil War in Zimbabwe, and spy swaps in Cold War East Europe. I had a great ride.

    2) Do you have any advice for readers on how to balance motherhood with ambition and career?

    Balancing motherhood and professional ambition is never easy. It wasn’t in the ‘80s or ‘90s and it isn’t now. I always felt that I was letting somebody down: my employers, my children, my husband, and my own dreams. But I kept at it, until I found what suited me and my absolute commitment to have a family. But it was always a compromise. I gave up my glamorous life as foreign correspondent for the more solitary life of a writer. There were unexpected rewards, however, and I think for me it was the right call. I just couldn’t bear to be away from my kids when they were little. It’s never perfect and all I can say is, keep at it and be flexible. Some of the things we women undertake, I wouldn’t trade for any amount of professional success. I mean the human connections we form, the friendships, which take time, and of course becoming mothers, and not just at the margins of our careers. I wouldn’t give up any of these things for longer office hours.

    3) If you were a young foreign correspondent today, where would you most like to be reporting from and why?

    Today, I would love to be covering the unfolding drama of the Middle East as populations long oppressed by dictators demand their rights – rights we have taken for granted for centuries. It is an uncertain and sometimes violent passage, but it is historic and I wish I were covering it.

    4) When you began writing for The Atlantic you recall feeling that print journalism was more satisfying than television. Why? Do you feel the same way today?

    Print journalism – especially long form, such as writing for The Atlantic Monthly, and then ultimately writing books, has given me much greater satisfaction that the more elusive, adrenaline-charged reward of broadcast journalism. I can open any of my books and read a passage whenever I feel like it, and know that I have written something no one else has – and that it is permanent.

    5) In writing another article for The Atlantic, you discovered you are Jewish. What was that revelation like? How did it change your perception of yourself and did it change your perception of global politics at all?

    I was actually thrilled to discover my Jewish roots while researching my biography of Raul Wallenberg. I had come to the US as a little girl leaving behind my Hungarian roots and painful (my parents were jailed as American spies when I was six years old, and I did not see them for almost two years) family history, in exchange for a chance at a new life here in the United States. But I always yearned for a deeper sense of identity and sensed that something was missing from my family narrative – that our history did not begin in the United States. My parents chose to withhold our Jewish roots as they had been made to suffer for them in anti-Semitic, pre-World War II Hungary. In fact, I discovered that my maternal grandparents had perished in Auschwitz in 1944. This was a shock to learn at age thirty. I believe it is always a mistake to withhold essential family history from our children. I have tried to be very open with my own. My discovery of my Jewish roots at a rather advanced age did not lead me to a more religious life, but certainly to a greater awareness of humanity’s capacity for evil, as well as the need for tolerance of cultural and ethnic differences. Perhaps I had those qualities before, but my personal discoveries enhanced those innate sympathies. As I accompanied my husband, Richard Holbrooke, during his successful mission to end the horrific violence in Bosnia, I became even more aware of the need for understanding and for energetic diplomacy in stopping ethnic conflicts before they turn genocidal.

    6) Were your children interested in journalism? Would you advise young people to go into journalism today?

    Journalism is a great and adventurous way of life. I have seen parts of the world I would never have been exposed to had I started out as an author, right out of college. The ten years I spent as a reporter enlarged my worldview immeasurably. So, yes, I would recommend it for anyone looking for adventure. It is not a particularly secure way of life, however, and not always easy to combine with a good family life. That is why I am happy I switched to writing books a couple of decades ago. But I maintain my involvement in the world through my pro bono work with such humanitarian organizations as the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Rescue Committee, and Human Rights Watch. I chaired the International Women’s Health Coalition for five years. My daughter is working in the humanitarian field and has just finished two years of relief work in Haiti. My son is writing his first book. So I guess the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.

    7) You quote Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast at each chapter opening. Is this an important book for you? What do you like about it? Do you like other Hemingway works?

    As I wrote in Paris – A Love Story, Hemingway casts a huge shadow over all other American writers who have written from and about Paris. As I describe in my own book, Hemingway’s interaction with Parisians is very limited and Paris is really mostly a backdrop for his novels about expatriate life. I hugely admire his disciplined style, his tightly woven plots and sometimes heartbreaking longing for what was lost along the way – especially in A Moveable Feast.

    8) What are you most proud of accomplishing in your life? What do you think Richard was most proud of? And what was it for Peter?

    I am most proud of having raised two really great kids! Same goes for Richard and Peter.

    9) You write candidly about your affair with a man in Budapest while married to Richard, and the allure of a simpler life and a connection to your Hungarian roots. Is this draw towards a simpler life something that you’ve struggled with or felt torn between for all of your professional life? Do you still feel attracted to a less high-powered, public lifestyle?

    Paris – A Love Story is an honest account of my life and therefore I felt I owed the reader an account of the period when I allowed a friendship with another man to go too far. It was a mistake but it reinforced my commitment to my husband and his to me. We had tested our bond. That friendship grew out of my need for a more quiet and a more European life. The life I am living now, since the sudden death of my beloved Richard, a public man with a super-charged life is a more quiet life. I set my own pace now and take more time to savor simpler pleasures, the colors, smells and textures of things – whether in Paris or in New York. I miss certain aspects of my life with Richard, but mostly I just miss him. I am learning to live on my own for the first time. The freedom is quite exhilarating and I am learning slowly to cope with the occasional loneliness. Friends help tremendously!

    10) Have you considered moving to Paris for good?

    I am too American to live full-time in Paris. But I certainly love having a part-time Parisian life, especially as my sister lives there and my children have also come to love the city.

    11) Are there any other cities in the world you love as much, or almost as much, as Paris?

    I also love my hometown of Budapest – another exquisitely beautiful city. But New York is my town now.

    12) After Richard’s death, you return to Paris and write eloquently about your changes in old patterns and the shift in your self-definition when no longer a part of a couple. You write that you observed yourself and your actions as you would a stranger (p. 162). How do you perceive yourself now?

    I do observe myself now as I would a stranger. I cheer myself on when I handle a rough situation with a degree of grace, and channel Richard when I mess up and can hear him telling me, You blew that one, Kati. I feel as if I am just now, at this ripe stage in my middle age, coming into my own. Life alone is much more challenging than when you have someone always watching your back. Of course, I was very lucky to have been part of such a close couple, but in a strange way, I feel lucky to have a chance to test myself now. I am a work in progress!

    13) What are you working on these days?

    I am doing a great deal of traveling now as Paris – A Love Story has had a very warm reception around the country. This is tremendously gratifying as it was not a pain-free process writing it. I am beginning to think about my next book (#9!). But for now, I am enjoying talking about this one, and meeting people who also love Paris, or have had their hearts broken, or are going through some sort of an unexpected transition in their lives. There seem to be many of us out there!

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