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4.0 out of 5 stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars
The Gate
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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 3 March 2017
A good if harrowing book, describing both the author's time in a Khmer Rouge prison camp and in the French Embassy after the fall of Phnom Penh. The most chilling part is his account of the relationship he formed with the man who went on to run Tuol Sleng, a torture camp. I've thought about this book a lot since I finished it. Well worth reading.
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on 6 May 2016
Very powerful not easy to read. John le Carré recommends it.
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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 19 July 2017
Do you want to read a really good book. This is it. Well written and solid.
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on 5 November 2014
Powerful book ; I read it in French ; my friend tread it in English as she was off to Asia.... Was a bit too much for ehr but I found it very interesting.
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on 15 May 2008
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. I feel this stifles the readability of the book and produces a stilted, academic account of his experiences rather than reading as a free flowing, exciting, nerve wrenching story like I'm sure it was in reality.
The book starts well and is at its best up to his capture and detainment.
After that it labours and gets harder to read as it continues.
I did finish it and am glad to have read it, but I expected it to be much better considering the critic's reviews and those on this site.

note added: People who read book reviews before buying want to read only positive reviews, which is why they leave negative feedback when a review goes against popular opinion. I think it's important to study all reviews and in particular why some reviews are in a minority.
I reviewed this book fairly and honestly, if someone wants to read only positive reviews then don't read it.
I've read hundreds of books on Vietnam and Cambodia, during the war and this was a poor book in my opinion.
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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 3 October 2017
Boring melodramatic and self indulgent, all he thinks about is himself me me me he doesn't even mention his wife's name once in this book, he refers to his wife as "Helene's mother"?? He also seems to me a pervert as he forces himself on a young Vietnamese refugee, this book is pure tosh written by a self indulgent French fool
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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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