Still Life with Bones
GENOCIDE, FORENSICS, AND WHAT REMAINS
“An anthropologist working with forensic teams and victims’ families to investigate crimes against humanity in Latin America explores what science can tell us about the lives of the dead in this haunting account of grief, the power of ritual, and a quest for justice. Working with forensic teams at mass grave sites and in labs, Hagerty discovers how bones bear witness to crimes against humanity and how exhumation can bring families meaning after unimaginable loss. She also comes to see how cutting-edge science can act as ritual—a way of caring for the dead with symbolic force that can repair societies torn apart by violence.”
Sections of this book were haunting. The sheer number of atrocities that have occured under government rule and the ones that are still happening today is almost overwhelming. The people trying to identify their
deceased murdered loved ones is heart rending. As Hagerty says, there is no way that all the bones can be identified with the amount of (wo)manpower in the job, and the funding problems and pushbacks of current politicians. It should be a powerful reminder that the story being told is always the one told by those who have gained power – maybe one day a different group of leaders will emerge who make identifying the genocide victims a priority but don’t expect it.
I don’t really know what I expected from this book. Perhaps I was looking for some more scientific / gruesome details. Someone in one of my classes this week showed me a picture of a toe they’d received for molecular testing. I’m always curious about the science, but this book is by a social anthropologist, not a anatomy major! That being said, there were still some interesting points to consider. I really enjoyed the descriptions of how Hagerty drew the stories from the families, and yet she was able to convey the utter shock of accidentally snapping a bone in the next breath.
I’d love to read more by this author – particularly if she starts writing fiction! That being said, this book is honestly horrifying. Humans shouldn’t be able to do that to other humans and get away with it. If reading this book prevents even a single murder, that would be fantastic. If it encourages someone to learn more about forensics and history, that’s also amazing. I highly recommend this non-fiction for anyone who has an interest in history, genocides and forensics.
Hachette | 14th March 2023 | AU$32.99 | paperback