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on 3 September 2004
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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on 12 February 2004
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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on 15 March 2003
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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on 24 December 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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on 11 February 2013
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. He felt that the Americans were uncouth in their methods, their conscience was misplaced and "They were total strangers in the area, driven by clichés about Asia worthy of the flimsiest tourist guides and they behaved accordingly."

One of the outstanding features of this otherwise very ordinary memoir is the relationship between Bizot and his captor, Douch. Bizot relationship with Douch and the way he conveys the relationship is intriguing. On one occasion Bizot broods over Douch's back ground and his own fate at the hands of his captors. About Douch, Bizot tells us that when Douch was arrested by Sihanouk's police they, "beat him about the head for engaging in communist activities." When Bizot turns his recollections upon himself he has to acknowledge that as a prisoner of Douch his fate lays in the hand a man for whom he shows some sympathy. During a conversation between Bizot and Douch about his belief and ideology we get a sense of a mutual understanding and despite their different circumstances a developing friendship. Bizot acknowledges that: "Just as he revealed such cruelty, I surprised myself by feeling affectionate towards him. ... I was looking not at a monster from the abyss but a human being, taken by nature and conditioned for killing."

In places, in short bursts, the descriptive writing comes alive but alas this is not sustained throughout the book. For example, "Now and again the lonely buzz of insect hidden in an enormous clump of pandanus produced a slow, deep sound that seemed to emerge from a reed pipe. Everywhere, the air was echoing with sounds, and the rhythmic flow that reached my consciousness was so scrambled that I could no longer distinguish individual notes ..."

Bizot's love for every minutia of Cambodia meant that he took time to tell us about some things that in the grand scheme of war was of little interest. A good example of this was where Bizot tells us about his favourite chicken, Paulette, in the camp where he was detained. It felt as if Bizot was padding out the book and passages like this were somewhat tedious to read.

The Gate was a big disappointing read. It quite simply did not engage me as I expected it would. I suppose that the main reason why it did not engage is because it is a personal story and yet I just could not hear a voice.
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on 2 October 2015
Superb tale and some kind of insight into the world of the Khmer Rouge François being the only white guy who walked away from the KR having been captured; he speaks excellent Khmer and was a student of buddhist temples when he got grabbed; he truly loves the people and only escaped here due to his rapport with Douch who later on became the chief executioner at S21 Lycee-prison in Phnom Penh ... karmic soulmate deal one would surmise for the ones of you who speak that language .... very well-written if a tad over-flowery in parts .. if anyone wants a more in-depth historical account and one more personal tale these are 2 books recommended by F in the backpages of this excellent read HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Surviving The Killing Fields
Roger Ngor Haing S.
Cambodia: 1975-1982
Michael Vickery
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on 19 December 2009
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 better.

It has a raw emotional element to it as the author was a relatively young guy when he witnessed all the events. The one thing that I did leave it asking myself was what the hell happened to his Cambodian wife and child he mentions them in passing. I dread to think what happened to them when he left and he doesnt say presumably because it was a horrible ending of a story and he couldnt face putting it on paper....
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on 20 April 2004
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 customers.
Just a few notes of caution though.
The language in the book can be heavy-going at times - I often foundmyself reaching for the dictionary. I do not know whether this is down tothe translator or the academic background of the (French) author (or mypoor vocabularly!). Anyway, some readers will enjoy the wide-ranging useof language, others may find that sometimes it breaks up the flow of thebook a bit and makes it a bit cold (almost like a student essay wherepoints are awarded for using difficult words).
The book is essentially in two-halves - firstly the author's capture bythe Khmer Rouge, and secondly the seige of the French embassy in PhomnhPehn a few years later. The book leaps from the first half to the secondin the same paragraph and without explanation or a logical pause (such asa new chapter) - this can be a bit confusing at first.
The book is also very cold and written in quite a detached way. This is nodoubt due to the subject matter and dreadful experiences of the author,but it is not a heart-warming tale in any sense. For example, we neverfind out what happened to the author's girlfriend/wife (and mother of hischild) - it is as though they are not relevant to the story.
Please do not let any of the above cautionary notes put you off - this isa very good book and I highly recommend it.
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on 29 September 2009
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. the impact of the book for me derives from the uneasy relationships between prisoner and gaolers it also shows human beings at their best and worst on both sides of the fence. it doesn't leave the reader with a vivid mental picture of the magnitude of the events taking place, instead it focuses on the day to day problems of surviving in a ruined city and the difficulties encountered and near fatal consequences of paying your last respects or scavenging for food. brilliant.
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on 14 July 2010
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 written a powerful autobiography with honesty, understanding and candour. His experience is merciless, desperate and often poignant and he was incredibly lucky to survive. His ability to write about himself and his experiences almost from the third person perspective, results in a beautifully written text introducing the reader to a most horrible time in recent history.
I found this book deeply moving.
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