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The Gate [Hardcover]

Francois Bizot
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 Jan 2003
In 1971, on a routine outing through the Cambodian countryside, the young French scholar Fran-ois Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge. Accused of being an agent of "American imperialism", he was chained and imprisoned. His captor, Douch, later responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, interviewed him at length; after three months of torturous deliberation, during which his every word was weighed and his life hung in the balance, he was released. No other Western prisoner survived. Four years later, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. Fran-ois Bizot became the official intermediary between the ruthless conqueror and the terrified refugees behind the gate of the French embassy: a ringside seat to one of history's most appalling genocides. (2002-10-18)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Press; First Edition edition (23 Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843430010
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843430018
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 276,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

French ethnologist Francois Bizot's The Gate is a unique insight into the rise of the Khmer Rouge. In 1971 Bizot was studying ancient Buddhist traditions and living with his khmer partner and daughter in a small village in the environs of the Angkor temple complex. The Khmer Rouge was fighting a guerilla war in rural Cambodia and during a routine visit to a nearby temple, Bizot and his two khmer colleagues were captured by them and imprisoned deep in the jungle on suspicion of working for the CIA. On trial for his life, over the next three months Bizot developed a strong relationship with his captor, Comrade Douch, who would later become the Khmer Rouge's chief interrogator and commandant of the horrifying Tuol Sleng prison where thousands of captives were tortured prior to execution. The portrait Bizot gives of the young schoolteacher-turned revolutionary and their interaction is simultaneously fascinating and terrifying.

Finally freed after Douch had pleaded his case with the leadership, Bizot became the only western captive of the Khmer Rouge ever to be released alive, but his story does not end there. On his return to Phnom Penh, due to his fluency in khmer, he was appointed interpreter between the occupying forces and the remaining western nationals holed up in the French embassy. As the interlocutor at the eponymous gate, he relates with dreadful resignation the moment when the khmer nationals in the compound were ordered out by the Khmer Rouge forces for "resettlement".

Bizot's is a touching and gripping account of one of the darkest moments in modern history and it is told with a unique voice. As a Cambodian resident, a lover of Cambodia and a fluent khmer speaker, Bizot shows an understanding of the prevailing mood in the country that other western commentators have failed to capture effectively, while as a western academic he is able to see the forces at work and how Cambodia fits into the bigger picture of South East Asian conflict. What emerges is a tale of a land plunged into insanity and Bizot tells it like a eulogy for a dead friend and a confrontation of old demons. The Gate is a stunning book and a must for anyone interested in this grim period of Asian history. --Duncan Thomson


one of the finest accounts of the strange intimacy which can flourish between prisoner and interrogator, and should immediately be numbered among the great post-Second-World-War memoirs of incarceration... (Robert Macfarlane, London Evening Standard 2003-12-18)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grim but worthy reading 12 Feb 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The power of this book lies in the fact that it's a first person account from someone who was really there in Cambodia when the horrors of the Khmer Rouge began. As an anthropologist, Bizot is also more qualified than most to hazard a guess and explanation as to how the whole Khmer Rouge nightmare was allowed to start, and why the world stood by and let it happen. This is the sort of book which leaves a permanent imprint on your memory. If, ultimately, the book leaves you feeling empty, that may be because it is not a novel. There are no neat explanations or resolutions. It is merely a true-to-life description of genocide that beggars belief in its cruelty and pointlessness.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, yet terrifying 3 Sep 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In 1971, on a routine outing Francois Bizot, a young French ethnologist, was captured by the Khmer Rouge.
Founded during the 1950s, the Khmer Rouge became infamous for their ruthless guerilla fight against the Lon Nol regime and their murder of more than two million people during their 1975-79 rule. Forced out of power in 1979 by the Vietnamese invasion the Khmer Rouge survived the 1980s with the help of Thailand and the USA - that other 'victim' of a Vietnamese war. Following the Paris Agreement in 1991, it began to fade and following the death of Pol Pot in 1998 it collapsed.
The guerilla war was in full swing when Bizot was captured in 1971. By (perhaps) speaking Khmer and sheer luck he survived his captor, Douch, and the camp. His survival is virtually unique. If you feel that his description at times sounds surprisingly human, I suggest you refer to the Epilogue, which describes the fight within the Khmer leadership over Bizot and the price paid for his release.
In 1975, Bizot became the Gate between the French Embassy and the Khmer Rouge leadership. Through his eyes you will witness the final days of the inhabitants of Phnom Penh, the evacuation of the Cambodians from the French Embassy and the tragedies of the overland trip to the Thai border.
Re-visiting Douch in 2000 and the places of his capture helped Bizot to finally shut the Gate.
I picked up this book by chance. Once I started reading I never put it down again until I finished. The way the story is told will force you to read right to the very end. I have never read a more gripping yet terrifying account of the final days of Phnom Penh.
You won't be able to put it down either once you start reading it.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
I read some great things about this book in various reviews,so i decided to give it a go. I was quite prepared to be disappointed, as most things do not live up to their hype. However,my trepidation was soon dispelled, for this remarkable book kept me revited from the moment i picked it up. Francois Bizot writes about his time in captivity in Cambodia without the slightest shred of bitterness and he does not seek to dwell on the lurid details of his ordeal. While he does not minimize the full horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, he emphasises the beauty of the country that he chose to live in and study, and he also puts a human face to a regime that is synonomous with fear and torture. His relationship and conversations with his chief gaolor Douch are rivitingly conveyed and it is easy to pick up on why he felt a certain affection to this man. It is both shocking and incredibly touching to learn that this man risked his own life to save this one Frenchman before earning his reputation as one of Pol Pot's cheif torturers and murderers.
The second and equally spellbinding part of the book deals with Bizot's time at the French Embassy after the Khmer Rouge had seized control of the capital Phnom Penh. Refugees cramped the embassy's grounds and the dictatorship's headquarters were just across the road. Against the odds, Biztot manages to form a close relationship with the volatile leader of the Khmer Rouge in the city, Nhem. He scrounges,bluffs and charms his way through his ordeal until he and his fellow detainees are forced to flee to Thailand, a journey that is filled with heartache and dispair.
The book concludes with an incredibly moving epilogue, but I won't say anymore. Read this wonderful book and experience the full wealth of inhumanity, compassion, despiar and hope that is contained within it's pages. It is quite simply a modern masterpiece that should not be neglected at any cost.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous 24 Dec 2003
This is a tremendous piece of literary work, John le Carre describes it as a modern masterpiece, who am I to disagree. The descriptive prose gives greater depth for the reader and a true sense of Francois Bizot's experience. As the only Westerner to be captured and interned by the Khmer Rouge and survive is not only a testament of his will to survive but also of his humility in understanding the Cambodian peoples, language, culture and the human condition. It is in the epilogue where the experience of reading this book hits home, where Bizot is in the position of confronting his interrogator, the infamous Douch. This is a great book. If you enjoy this book, which I am sure you will, then I would also recommend Jon Swain's River of Time, which Bizot, interestingly enough credits for writing about his own experiences.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointing Read 11 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I first heard of The Gate by Francois Bizot in the summer of 2012 when I took a tour of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. As I travelled the area visiting the typical tourist sites, the book was highly recommended. I eventually go around to reading the book away from the hurly-burly excitement of the tour. So did the The Gate live up to its high recommendation as a must read?

The Gate is a memoir which tells the story of Bizot's experience of being held in captivity by a local Khmer Rouge leader, Douch and subsequently, after release from captivity, under siege in the French embassy. It is a harrowing story of hardship, cruelty, perseverance and good luck. It is a book of two halves Bizot's time in captivity under Douch and his time behind the gate giving refuge to those desperate to escape the turmoil of Cambodia.

In 1971 Bizot was working as a researcher into Buddhist practices associated with the state of being in a trance. He tells us that in 1971 he was kidnapped and detained by the Khmer Rouge. He begins his book from the point of a return trip to Cambodia in 1988 where he recalled his experience behind the gate of the French embassy.

Bizot outlines the geo-politics of the time. The Khmer Rouge joined forces with the North Vietnamese in support of the Peking based prince Sihanouk's appeal to fight against the dictatorship and traitor Lon Nol. Of course the USA opposed this communist revolution and added to the prolonged human suffering and destruction of Bizot's beloved Cambodia. Although there was n love lost between Bizot and the Khmer Rouge his disdain for the USA came across in the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
A well-written, powerful and haunting book which engages the reader from start to finish. Bizot fully appreciates the political and cultural mess he found himself caught in and has... Read more
Published on 14 July 2010 by J. N. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Human toll
I read this book whilst travelling in SE Asia after visiting Cambodia. It was a riveting read and made me understand the whole complicated mess that was Cambodia of the 70s a bit... Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2009 by Ms. C. Gilchrist
4.0 out of 5 stars bizot
i've just re read this account and must admit enjoyed it more the second time round. it is not action packed or filled with gore. Read more
Published on 29 Sep 2009 by S. Brisco
3.0 out of 5 stars Average Read
A good read but skips over events which are essential understanding Cambodian history and the Cambodian psyche. Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2009 by N. Wheeler
4.0 out of 5 stars The Gate
For anyone who has ever been to Cambodia, (and those who haven't) this exquisitely written account of the dreadful dark days of that lovely country, will help them understand what... Read more
Published on 6 Aug 2009 by M Hare
5.0 out of 5 stars A man is killed more easily than an animal
François Bizot's memories paint the Cambodian power struggle between the Red Khmers and their enemies, as well as the fall of Phnom Penh, from an original point of view. Read more
Published on 7 Nov 2008 by Luc REYNAERT
1.0 out of 5 stars Very Dissapoining
The author spends almost the entire time hidden in the French embassy resulting in a very boring book in which nothing much happens!
Published on 19 July 2008 by C. Shorrock
2.0 out of 5 stars Left me disappointed
This book had all the ingredients and potential to make a superb read.
However I was disappointed in it, the author is a highly intelligent and intellectual man of creativity. Read more
Published on 15 May 2008 by M. Telford
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good book - but a few notes of caution for readers
This is a good book and readers will see from the other customer reviewsthat it comes highly rated - indeed I purchased the book due to theglowing recommendations of other Amazon... Read more
Published on 20 April 2004
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