A long, looooooong piece in the Toronto Star today by “national affairs writer” Linda Diebel on the Liberal leader’s love life. They wonder why newspapers are in such trouble but they shouldn’t, not when they run such admiring, uncritical, adoringly crafted puff. About a politician’s love life. Blech. Like Michelle Malkin would say, we need a drool bucket.
But that’s not what bugs me. Well, it does. But that’s not really the worst. What is particularly annoying about that piece is the absence of any kind of criticism for a somewhat sordid affair (both Mr. Ignatieff and his current wife were once married to other people, and he walked out on his wife of 18 years with whom he had two children to be with Ms. Zsohar) and a complete lack of restraint on the part of the two lovers, who seem very happy to share their personal history with the nation, even the bits that are (and should be) shameful.
I don’t begrudge their happiness or anything. And while I am of the “marry right and marry once” old-fashioned school, I try not to judge those who get a false start too harshly. But golly. The casual way these people describe walking away from marriages like one walks out on a boring movie is quite despicable. And they’re in their 60s… You’d kind of forgive that sort of ditzy bean-spilling exercise on the part of a cute starlet, but coming from adults who ought to qualify as “mature”, it’s just so… icky.
In the most treasured classics, lovers face obstacles, delays and misunderstandings that sweep them to the brink of despair. They come from different worlds, sometimes disliking each other at the outset. With each separation, tension builds, until a final plot twist seals their fate.
On a March 1995 evening, such a twist of plot occurred in the life of Zsuzsanna Zsohar, when the doorbell rang in her Holland Park flat in central London. It’s likely she divined the significance of the moment before answering, being someone who values books like the very air she breathes.
Standing there was Michael Ignatieff, carrying a plastic bag. He’d just done an interview at the BBC and said only, “Can I stay?”
“And, he did,” says Zsohar, now married to the new Liberal leader and living in Ottawa. “He’d made up his mind what he wanted to do. I didn’t make up his mind. He did.”
On a recent afternoon at Stornoway, the residence of the official opposition leader in upscale Rockcliffe Park, she recounts this exhilarating but painful period in their lives. Until that March night, Ignatieff, author, late-show TV host and Canadian expat, lived with his English wife, Susan Barrowclough, and their two children in London. Two years earlier, he was doing a television series on ethnic nationalism, Blood and Belonging, co-produced by the BBC, and it fell to Zsohar, books promotion/publicity manager for BBC Enterprises, to market the accompanying book. Reluctantly.
As they worked together over two years, she realized he actually was “a nice man.” There was chemistry, but “we broke up because he was married… You go back, you sort it out – I think he sees himself very much as a family man… So we were colleagues, we worked together but we weren’t actually romantically linked. He went home, you know, he lived with his wife and children, and I lived in my own flat.”
So, you weren’t actually romantically linked yet you “broke up”? I know I’ve been away from the dating scene for a while, but, um, how does that work?
When the split came, it caused a frisson in gossipy London town. Ignatieff had mined his family to write about domestic bliss and the joys of fatherhood, and this was too rich to let slip.
“Welcome to the Late Show; I’ve left my wife,” mocked a headline in the Evening Standard, over a story saying:
“The Age of the New Man, it is said, is drawing to a close. Right on cue, his patron saint – the don, philosopher and sensitive novelist, Michael Ignatieff – has fallen from his pedestal. After 18 years of happy marriage in Islington, Michael has up and walked out, setting up home with a lovely young BBC press officer, Susannah (sic) Zsohar.”
The lovely young thing was 48; in September she turns 62.
Zsohar shrugs. “I couldn’t break up his marriage. I wasn’t 20… To a lot of people, it was difficult to understand: If you leave, why do you leave for someone of your own age? Somebody who’s not a bimbo? (I) really didn’t fit the `bimbo’ category. You remember – we were not spring chickens!”
She jokes, but this was no easy time. It was, she says, “a very, very bitter and difficult divorce – difficult because he really walked out – but not on his kids.
“Around that time, Michael actually gave a talk in Canada (about) parents’ responsibility to children. It’s a very interesting piece because it says adults are also responsible for their own happiness. They are responsible for their children’s happiness, yes, but they are also responsible for their own happiness, providing you never leave your children, never abandon responsibility for them.”
Right. You can’t break up his marriage even when you do. And it’s perfectly cool for a father to go live with someone else, as long as he never “abandons responsibility” for his children… Gosh, what self-serving drivel. Could this story be more appalling?by