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The Gateby Francois Bizot
Synopses & Reviews
A literary and historical tour de force: what one man saw and did in a land of pristine beauty on the eve of one of the twentieth century?s most barbaric spectacles.
In 1971, François Bizot was a young French scholar of Khmer pottery and Buddhist ritual working in rural Cambodia. Now, more than thirty years later, he has summoned up the unbearable memory of that moment, letting us see as never before those years leading inexorably to genocide. Perfectly recalled, indelibly written, The Gate recounts the nightmare of Bizot?s arrest and captivity on suspicion of being an American spy, and his nearly miraculous survival as the only Westerner ever to escape a Khmer Rouge prison. It is the story, as well, of Bizot?s unlikely friendship with his captor, Douch — a figure today better remembered as a ruthless perpetrator of the then-looming terror, about which Bizot tried, without success, to warn his government.
Bizot?s experience to that point would itself have merited report. But upon his return to Cambodia four years later, chance ordained a second remarkable act in this drama. As the sole individual fluent in both French and Khmer, Bizot found himself playing the intermediary in a surreal standoff when the Communist-backed guerillas, now ascendant, laid siege to the French Embassy compound in Phnom Penh. Finally it would fall to Bizot to lead the desperate retreat of the colonial population: here he recounts how he helped the remaining Westerners — and any Cambodians he could — to escape the doomed capital.
Both beautiful and devastating, The Gate is a searing and unforgettable act of witness and remembrance.
"Breathtaking....Heartbreaking and terrifying: a superb account of the madness of war, and of a people?s wholesale self-destruction." Kirkus Reviews
"[F]ar more harrowing than any novel....In his portrayals of the men and women turned away from the gate at which he stood vigil, and of those forcibly wrested away from the harried party that finally evacuates through that same gate, Bizot leaves his readers with haunting images of the doomed." Bryce Christensen, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Despite his frequent heroic acts, Bizot emphasizes his own frailty and weakness — when he's not looking to set the record straight....For many Americans, the senseless tragedy of Cambodia remains a mystery; this elegant volume helps outline the contours of that tragedy from a unique perspective." Publishers Weekly
"An unnerving and miraculous mixture of beauty and horror." Lucretia Stewart, Times Literary Supplement (U.K.)
"A tour de force...as gripping and as revealing as anything to have come from the time when this once beautiful country descended into hell." Michael Binyon, The Times (London)
"Memorably astonishing....I gasped time and again during the...reading of a book that manages to combine a spare and classical literary elegance with the recounting of a tidal wave of appalling episodes....I have never read a book like this. It is deeply moving and ineffably terrible; every intelligent person who has a care about this world and its people should read it. Bizot has done humankind a great service." Simon Winchester, The Sunday Times (London)
"Distinguished by its intense dignity, by its unexpected attention to beauty, and by a discretion which never shades into coyness, The Gate should immediately be numbered among the great post-Second World-War memoirs of incarceration." Robert MacFarlane, The Guardian (London)
"Though the narrative is filled with odd elisions and gaps...though it would have benefited enormously from additional background material that might have situated events in a larger historical context, Mr. Bizot's story possesses the indelible power of a survivor's testimony. He writes as a man haunted by the terrible things he has experienced and seen..." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"The Gate is a thrilling, exquisitely observed and terrifying account of the world trapped in the moral cul de sac of absolute revolution. It reads like a novel and it sears both the conscience and the heart. If you only ever read one book on Cambodia, make sure it is this one." William Shawcross, The Sunday Telegraph (London)
Francois Bizot was a young scholar of Khmer pottery and Buddhist ritual working in rural Cambodia in 1971, in the days leading inexorably to genocide. Perfectly recalled, indelibly written, The Gate recounts the nightmare of his arrest and captivity on suspicion of being an American spy, and his survival as the only Westerner ever to escape a Khmer Rouge prison. It is the story, as well, of Bizot's almost unimaginable friendship with his captor, Douch ? a figure better remembered today as a ruthless perpetrator of the then-looming terror. And we learn how four years later, Bizot, fluent in both French and Khmer, played the intermediary in a surreal standoff during which the Communist-backed guerillas laid siege to the French Embassy compound in Phnom Penh. Finally, Bizot luminously reports the harrowing retreat of the colonial population: how he helped lead the remaining Westerners ? and any Cambodians he could ? in a desperate evacuation of the doomed capital.
The Gate is a beautiful and devastating book ? a searing and unforgettable act of witness.
About the Author
François Bizot is an ethnologist who has spent the greater part of his career studying Buddhism. He is the Director of Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes-études and holds the chair in Southeast Asian Buddhism at the Sorbonne. He lives in Paris.
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