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Marton, Kati 1949- (Kati Ilona Marton)

Marton, Kati 1949- (Kati Ilona Marton)

PERSONAL:

Born April 3, 1949, in Budapest, Hungary; daughter of Endre (a journalist and professor) and Ilona (a journalist) Marton; married Carroll Wetzel (divorced); married Peter Jennings (a journalist), September, 1979 (divorced, 1995); married Richard Holbrooke (a diplomat), 1995; children: Elizabeth, Christopher. Education: Attended Wells College, 1965-67, and the Sorbonne and the Institut des Etudes de Sciences Politiques, Paris, 1967-68; George Washington University, B.A., 1969, M.A., 1971.

ADDRESSES:

Home—New York, NY. Agent—Amanda Urban, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

CAREER:

National Public Radio, Washington, DC, reporter, 1971-72; WCAU-TV, Philadelphia, PA, news writer and reporter, 1973-77; ABC News, foreign correspondent and bureau chief based in Bonn, West Germany (now Germany), 1977-79; Sunday Times, London, England, columnist, 1983-85; writer, 1985—. Host of PBS-Radio weekly broadcast America and the World, 1995-97. Also reporter for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS-TV), Atlantic Monthly, London Times, and New Republic. Visiting scholar at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, Columbia University, 1991-92. Member, Council on Foreign Relations, Committee to Protect Journalists, New America Foundation, and J. Anthony Lukas Memorial Foundation; member of Media Studies Center advisory committee, Freedom Forum; board of directors, International Rescue Committee.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Channel 10 Award for reporting, 1973; George Foster Peabody Award, 1973, for documentary on China; Philadelphia Press Association Award for best television feature story, 1974; Gannett fellow, 1988; Media Bridge-Builder Award, Marc H. Tanenbaum Foundation for the Advancement of Interreligious Understanding, and Kyriazis Foundation award, both 1997.

WRITINGS:

Wallenberg (biography), Random House (New York, NY), 1982, published as Wallenberg: Missing Hero, Arcade (New York, NY), 1995.

An American Woman (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1987.

The Polk Conspiracy: Murder and Cover-up in the Case of CBS News (nonfiction), Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 1990.

A Death in Jerusalem (nonfiction), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1994.

Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages that Shaped Recent History, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2001.

The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Vanity Fair, Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek.

SIDELIGHTS:

Ranging from biography to fiction, Kati Marton's writings often draw on politics, history, and her own experience as a journalist. This experience is far-reaching—Marton served as an overseas bureau chief for ABC News, hosted a National Public Radio show about foreign relations, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The Hungarian-born author, herself the daughter of Jewish refugees from communist persecution, is particularly interested in twentieth-century Jewish history in Europe and the Middle East. In the National Interest, Barbara Amiel called Marton "a skilled journalist who writes well."

Marton's first book, Wallenberg, is a biography of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who single-handedly saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from death at the hands of Nazis during World War II. Without legal authority or ulterior motive, Wallenberg secured the release of Jews en route to death camps by claiming that they were Swedes under the protection of the Swedish government. Wallenberg disappeared when the Soviet Army invaded Budapest near the end of the war, and he reportedly died in a Soviet prison in 1947. His biographers, including Marton, have not ruled out the possibility that the Swede is still alive. Wallenberg garnered a favorable reaction from critics. In a review of several Wallenberg biographies, Washington Post Book World contributor Charles Fenyvesi judged that Marton "excels in descriptions of her native Hungary and the Soviet gulag; her book has the most sensitive treatment of the personalities involved. It is the best written of the four and may well become the standard Wallenberg biography."

Marton's Hungarian heritage provided the basis for her next work, the novel An American Woman. Like the author, the book's central character, Anna Bator, is a Hungarian-born American journalist who works as a correspondent in Eastern Europe. Anna's parents, also like Marton's parents, are both journalists who were imprisoned in Communist Hungary in the 1950s after they were accused of being in league with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Freed during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Marton's parents immigrated with their daughters to Chevy Chase, Maryland, in 1959. Marton returned to her native country in the 1970s in what was a very emotional trip for her.

Anna has a similar experience in An American Woman, and she uses her time in Hungary to unearth the past that her father, Alex, refuses to discuss. In doing so, the heroine becomes involved in romance and political intrigue, discovers that her father was Jewish and, after breaking a story about a planned invasion of Poland by Soviet-backed forces, eventually lands in prison. Interspersed with Anna's story are flashbacks of her family's life in the 1950s. Though some critics found An American Woman to be lacking in character development and focus, several reviewers commented on the authenticity of the novel. Toronto Globe and Mail contributor Judy Stoffman, for instance, remarked that "the details of a reporter's working life in an Eastern bloc country ring true, as does Marton's description of the discomfort of the accent-free immigrant, the person who passes for native-born but knows herself to be different." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Nina Darnton called An American Woman "a lively cold war story, told with sensitivity and intelligence."

A search for the truth also propels Marton's third book, The Polk Conspiracy: Murder and Cover-up in the Case of CBS News, a nonfiction account of the events surrounding the demise of respected American correspondent George Polk in Greece in 1948. According to official reports, Polk was killed by Greek Communists while covering the civil war between Communist insurgents and the American-backed right-wing Greek government. A journalist with reported communist sympathies confessed to being a conspirator in the murder—after being tortured by the Greek police—but later recanted. Using previously classified information from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, and State Department, Marton argues that it was actually the Greek government who had Polk killed, and that the United States participated in a cover-up so as to maintain a friendly relationship with its anti-communist ally.

The Communists, Marton maintains, had no motive to kill Polk, who was critical of the Greek government and who had planned to interview the guerrillas in northern Greece around the time he was murdered. According to Marton, however, the Greek government did have a motive: a few days before his death, Polk accused Greek foreign minister Constantine Tsaldaris of illegally transferring twenty-five thousand dollars into a New York bank account and threatened to break the story, which would have been an embarrassment to the Greek government and which could have damaged U.S.-Greek relations. Polk never did report on the scandal, though, because shortly after his confrontation with Tsaldaris his body washed ashore at Salonika Bay. The United States launched an investigation, but those who conducted the probe ensured that the outcome aligned with America's political interests rather than the truth, according to Marton in The Polk Conspiracy. Though Washington Post Book World contributor Joseph E. Persico commented that "Marton's circumstantial case is … stronger than her factual case," several critics found the author's evidence compelling and praised The Polk Conspiracy. In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Murray Fromson called Marton's book "an impressive work of investigative reporting" and an "engrossing exposé." Persico declared that "the Polk case is more than a tale of covered-up murder. In Kati Marton's skilled hands it becomes a parable of the endless struggle between the truth and political expedience." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Michael Janeway judged that Marton "tells the story of George Polk's life skillfully, reminding us how lonely, perilous and heroic a reporter's lot can be."

A Death in Jerusalem explores the assassination of United Nations mediator Count Folke Bernadotte by Jewish terrorists in Jerusalem in 1948. The story balances a biography of Bernadotte with one of Yitzhak Shamir, the former Israeli prime minister who in 1948 was a member of the extremist group who carried out the assassination. Marton condemns Shamir not only for the assassination itself, but also for his continued involvement in Israeli politics despite his tacit admission that he knew the assassins and did not discourage them from their mission. In her National Interest review of the book, Amiel faulted it for the "pedestrian nature of its conclusions." The critic explained: "It is not that the bits and pieces of analysis in the book are wrong, but rather that they are severely secondhand. There is no insight or inspiration here, but only that … plodding, evenhanded reporting that to some extent is the hallmark of modern American journalism." Foreign Affairs correspondent Meron Benvenisti found A Death in Jerusalem to be "a fine new book … Marton has done a splendid job of recounting the tragic tale of the Swedish messenger of peace who paid with his life for his naive attempt to meddle in the Byzantine politics of the Middle East." A Publishers Weekly reviewer characterized the work as "a compelling cautionary tale for those working to break the cycle of retribution and terror in the Middle East."

Marton herself was formerly married to ABC anchorman Peter Jennings and is married to high-ranking diplomat Richard Holbrooke, so it is not surprising that she would undertake a study of American presidential marriages in the twentieth century. Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages that Shaped Our Recent History analyzes twelve couples who have occupied the White House together, with emphasis on the roles the First Ladies played in shaping policy. "Kati Marton's Hidden Power gets and keeps the reader's attention not because her subject is new but because her focus on it is interesting," observed Anthony Day in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Marton's discoveries include the fact that the most devoted husbands do not always make the best presidents, and that some first ladies have been content to subordinate their needs to their spouses' ambitions. New York Times contributor Patricia Cohen noted: "Scores of interviews and extensive research have turned up some revealing anecdotes and shrewd insights into the 11 presidential couples [Marton] chose to profile. And the subject, with its blend of power and passion, back channels and backstabbing, secrets and sex, is irresistible." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "Marton has delivered crisply written political gossip—those who want buzz will flock to it."

Returning to the subject of remarkable Hungarian Jews, Marton published The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World. The work profiles nine accomplished men who fled Europe for America and accomplished great things. Included are the scientists Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Wigner, novelist Arthur Koestler, movie directors Alexander Korda and Michael Curtiz, and photojournalists Andre Kertesz and Robert Capa. While they all had in common their national and religious background, these brilliant men and innovators are not too strongly linked otherwise by the author, according to some critics. "More a nicely assembled collection of anecdotes than a sustained narrative," reported a Kirkus Reviews writer, the book is "light on theory but long on description." According to a Publishers Weekly critic, the author "writes beautifully, balancing sharply defined character studies of each man with insights into their shared cultural traits and uprootedness," while Brendan Driscoll asserted in Booklist that The Great Escape offers "a unique and inspired testament to creative genius born of adversity." In the Library Journal, Maria C. Bagshaw felt that Marton "does such a good job … that she leaves the reader wanting to learn more."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 1, 1994, Mary Carroll, review of A Death in Jerusalem, p. 474; August, 2001, Jay Freeman, review of Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages that Shaped Our Recent History, p. 2081; November 15, 2006, Brendan Driscoll, review of The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World, p. 21.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), October 19, 2001, Philip Delves Broughton, "What Really Goes On in the White House: Few Know as Many Intimate Details about the Marriages of American Presidents as Kati Marton."

Foreign Affairs, January-February, 1995, Meron Benvenisti, review of A Death in Jerusalem, p. 171.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 15, 1987, Judy Stoffman, review of An American Woman.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2006, review of The Great Escape, p. 1001.

Library Journal, November 1, 2006, Maria C. Bagshaw, review of The Great Escape, p. 87.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 30, 1990, Murray Fromson, review of The Polk Conspiracy: Murder and Cover-up in the Case of CBS News, p. 1; September 20, 2001, Anthony Day, "Eleven Wives Who Shared the Power of the Presidency," review of Hidden Power, p. E10.

Middle East Policy, September, 1995, Alfred M. Lilienthal, review of A Death in Jerusalem, p. 220.

National Interest, summer, 1995, Barbara Amiel, review of A Death in Jerusalem, p. 76.

New York Times, February 22, 1995, Clyde Haberman, review of A Death in Jerusalem, p. B3; July 23, 1998, Elisabeth Bumiller, "Mr. Secretary, Perhaps, and Ms. Ambassador," p. B2; October 5, 2001, Patricia Cohen, "Hail to Mrs. Chief: Second Thoughts about First Ladies," review of Hidden Power, p. E35; October 7, 2006, Craig S. Smith, "Her Budapest, from Synagogue to Café," review of The Great Escape; December 31, 2006, Robert Leiter, "Born Hungarian," review of The Great Escape.

New York Times Book Review, May 24, 1987, Nina Darnton, review of An American Woman, p. 12; October 28, 1990, Michael Janeway, review of The Polk Conspiracy, p. 3; January 1, 1995, Caitlin Kelly, review of A Death in Jerusalem, p. 16; November 11, 2001, Leslie Chess Feller, review of Hidden Power, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly, September 26, 1994, review of A Death in Jerusalem, p. 47; August 20, 2001, review of Hidden Power, p. 71; August 28, 2006, review of The Great Escape, p. 39.

Washington Post Book World, June 20, 1982, Charles Fenyvesi, review of Wallenberg, p. 8; September 30, 1990, Joseph E. Persico, review of The Polk Conspiracy, p. 4; October 7, 2001, Lorraine Adams, "Bound for Glory," p. 4.

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