cover image Facing the Torturer

Facing the Torturer

Fran%C3%A7ois Bizot, trans. from the French by Charlotte Mandell and Antoine Audouard. Knopf, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-307-27350-5

The unsettling ordinariness of one of history's worst episodes of mass murder haunts this anguished memoir of the Cambodian genocide. In this follow-up to his 2003 The Gate, which chronicled his months of captivity by the Khmer Rouge in 1971, ethnologist Bizot probes his relationship with Duch, the camp commandant responsible for his release. Duch later became known as "the Butcher of Tuol Sleng" for his role supervising the torture and murder of thousands of Cambodians. (A lengthy appendix reprints the author's testimony at Duch's 2009 trial). Bizot explores the bond that developed between him and his captor%E2%80%94part Stockholm syndrome and part genuine empathy for Duch's twisted sense of duty and integrity. The experience prompts agonized introspection over the author's own killing of an inconvenient pet and abandonment of two Cambodian colleagues who later died in Khmer Rouge custody. Bizot's conflicted musings are so dense and gnarled as to be almost incoherent at times, still, he raises profound and moving questions about good, evil, and our impulse to see "the mask of the monster so as not to make out the familiar face of a human being." (Nov.)