Tuesday, 9 February 2010

the gate [w francois bizot]

Some people flirt with danger, some people become acquainted with it, and some have lived with it. Bizot undoubtably belongs to the latter category, as his book documents the time he was held captive by the Khmer Rouge, barely escaping with his life.

The Gate is an eye-witness account of the early days of the Cambodian genocide, written by a French Buddhist scholar whose love affair with the country turned spectacularly sour. However, his affection for the people of that country shines through, and is even discernible in his relationship with his chief captor. The young Bizot develops a complex relationship with Douch, a man who would later find his inner mass murderer. At the time Bizot knew him, the revolution had yet to take on its full genocidal scale, but the conversations documented between the prisoner and his guard go some way towards revealing how an attitude that most would describe as inhuman has its origins in a warped idealism, the by-product of a terrifying faith.

John Le Carre writes an eloquent introduction to the book, and it becomes clear that something of a myth grew up around Bizot. Much of the book feels like a somewhat regulation account of remarkable times, but on occasion there are flashes of insight into the terror that is engulfing Cambodia, a terror that is latent not to a culture, but to humanity, that add another dimension to Bizot's recollections; reminding the reader that he has known things which we, should we be lucky, should never have to confront.

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