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In 1971 a young French ethnologist named Francois Bizot was taken prisoner by forces of the Khmer Rouge who kept him chained in a jungle camp for months before releasing him. Four years later Bizot became the intermediary between the now victorious Khmer Rouge and the occupants of the besieged French embassy in Phnom Penh, eventually leading a desperate convoy of foreigners to safety across the Thai border.
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 Rouge’s torturers but who, for a while, was Bizot’s 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.
I helped serve the meal, trying to make sure it was fairly apportioned. I was as careful as if I were performing a ritual. The prisoners took their share in silence, as if receiving an offering, and as the aroma rose from the bowls, awakening buried memories, their eyes grew misty. Moved myself and unable to speak, I examined one by one the faces of these men, whom I had never looked at closely before. One of them signaled to me with his eyes. He had just arrived, and I had arranged for him to
whatever I could to feed the hundred or so people who had arrived on the first day without any provisions, who had still not been given anything to eat. At nightfall, I did not know where I was going to sleep. Avi, one of the last dogs in Cambodia not to have been eaten, had been rescued by Jan Migot, who was a good guardian. Rumors had actually reached me that the dog’s muscular haunches were attracting greedy, eager stares. Eventually, I went and lay down with him in the decoding office where
country (about two hundred, according to the registers), in particular those in Battambang and Pailin. The “president,” as the consul referred to him, received us in his quarters in the early evening. The still air that hung over the embassy was burning hot, further accentuating our feeling of tiredness. Dyrac, who was no longer young, sweated and panted with exhaustion as we crossed the boulevard. I myself was worn out; the moment dusk fell, despite my anxiety, a wave of sleep would hit me, and
supervising operations himself; it was he who would advance the convoy to the frontier. On the French side, Maurin had been put in charge. We had agreed that at the last moment before entering Thailand, André Pasquier, the delegate from the International Committee of the Red Cross, would hand a letter to Nhem. It would give us precise indications about the current conditions of the journey, in coded words we had already agreed upon. In the worst-case scenario—and this was what a number of us
that this strange practice was now law. No guns in the embassy. Extremely ill at ease, but not daring to contradict Nhem himself, he selected five men, without their weapons, to accompany him. We urged him to keep his own gun, afraid to see him lose face in front of his men. He strode across the courtyard with us. He had received orders from on high. His mission was to search our baggage, and in particular that of the journalists, to make sure that we had neither films nor photographs. Knowing