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The Gate Paperback – Illustrated, January 6, 2004
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“It possesses such truth of feeling, such clarity and conviction of narrative, such a wealth of image and adventure, and such depths of long-held passion that I do believe it is indeed that rarest thing: a classic.” – John le Carré , from the Foreword
“A deeply unsettling account of a particular ordeal that suggests larger questions: the moralities of power's ends and means, the character of revolutionary fanaticism and the indecipherable humanity that flickers within it. . . . by turns evocative, wise and crisscrossed by fury.” – The New York Times Book Review
“[A] fascinating book, to say the least. Passages of The Gate are riveting, some scenes heartbreaking.” –The Wall Street Journal
From the Inside Flap
Out of those ordeals comes this transfixing book. At its center lies the relationship between Bizot and his principal captor, a man named Douch, who is today known as the most notorious of the Khmer Rouges torturers but who, for a while, was Bizots protector and friend. Written with the immediacy of a great novel, unsparing in its understanding of evil, The Gate manages to be at once wrenching and redemptive.
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 037572723X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375727238
- Dimensions : 5.21 x 0.65 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Vintage; Vintage Books ed. edition (January 6, 2004)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,339,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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It is difficult to determine to what extent America’s role in the events of the region might have contributed to the Khmer Rouge revolution. The CIA (I suppose) had helped stage a coup d'état against Prince Sihanouk and installed pro-U.S .General Lon Nol as head of the new republic. The country fell into complete dependence upon American aid. It was the complicity of those people seduced by American money whom the Khmer Rouge despised, although in their fanaticism they associated anyone educated, who wore glasses or fingernail polish, as traitors to Cambodia.
North Viet Nam used America’s coup as a pretext to invade, presenting themselves as liberators. The Khmer Rouge considered themselves at war with American Imperialism, or at least used that as their justification for their revolution. Of course, there are those who claim that if America had persisted in the Viet Nam war to victory, at the cost of merely another 20,000 or so Americans, the genocide would have been averted. Maybe, but given that the royalty in Cambodia had a history of soaking up wealth and doing very little for the people, the country was sufficiently stratified for an ambitious scoundrel to arm the peasants and stage a revolt. At any rate, when Viet Nam invaded to oust the Khmer Rouge from power, The United States, rather than recognizing Viet Nam’s regime, continued to recognize Pol Pot as the legitimate government. Expediency always wins out over morality, sanity, and long-term effectiveness in foreign policy.
Bizot’s friendship with Douch, the Khmer Rouge leader who eventually helped him get released, against others who were convinced that he as a CIA spy and wanted to execute him, is especially interesting. Douch, capable of brutally torturing people whom he perceived as enemies of the revolution, was devoted to achieving democracy in Cambodia, with a sort of perverted innocence that gave “his still-youthful face the gentle expression of a cherub . . . the same childlike characteristics in the faces of all revolutionaries.” One can see that same seeming innocence in photographs of young Nazis in Germany singing songs around a campfire.
When the Khmer Rouge arrived in Phnom Penh and forcefully evacuated the entire populace, supposedly to escape American bombing, Bizot describes young anti-American French people who lauded their arrival, and even dressed like the Khmer Rouge revolutionaries. Many of the worst atrocities of the past couple of centuries have been caused by democracy-loving with a sense of brotherhood to peasants trying to impose their values on people who live in an entirely different reality. It takes very little sophistication to use a machine gun, but a great deal of civilizing influence to understand that people in different social strata are fellow humans. I just happened to read a novella by a science fiction author of the fifties, Black Man’s Burden, that presented that idea that social evolution must revolution, if the revolution is not to be staged by a power-hungry psychopath.
Francois Bizot' writing comes alive. His descriptions are vivid and natural and the tension of the moment is clear, even as the beauty of a small object he notices shines through the horror he is experiencing. This is human feeling at its best. Bizot is contemplative, even amusing, highly adept at describing human relationships and seemingly odd actions people take under pressure. This book is something I feel that should be read in schools as part of history but certainly for pleasure as a way of adding understanding to the complex and often dark times in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and the time when America was struggling fruitlessly to understand the cultures they clashed with.
Bizot himself is a man who has undergone incredible hardship, who has the capacity to understand and reach out to humanity in any form, and who would probably be one of the most interesting people to sit down to dinner with and have a long conversation. I would be absolutely honored to be the recipient of such an honor. The discussion would go on for days!
Top reviews from other countries
If you are a fan of Le Carre you might like this, not least because that author of fiction graciously describes Bizot's work as 'the real thing'. If you have had any connection to Cambodia you may also be moved by this.
An important facet of the book is that during his initial captivity, Bizot's gaoler is the infamous Comrade Duch who went on to become the executioner of c.20,000 of his fellow Cambodians. Bizot struggles to try to develop an understanding of how the idealistic young man who held him prisoner in 1971 became the mass murder of 1975. No easy answers are found. If you are interested by this last point then I recommend you move on to Bizot's Facing the Executioner, a more comprehensive attempt to understand Duch, including court transcripts from his trial. As I'm writing, Duch is still in prison for his crimes. Most of the other Khmer Rouge monsters are now dead.