9781400060641 / 1400060648

The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo


Publisher:Random House



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About the book:

In 1996 Clea Koff, author of The Bone Woman, was a graduate student of prehistoric skeletons at Berkeley when she was invited to take part in a fact-finding mission in Rwanda for the UN War Crimes Tribunal. The questions she and the other forensic specialists were to answer were: who were the victims buried in a mass grave behind the Kibuye church, and how did they die? This encounter with genocide proved pivotal in Clea's decision to become a forensic anthropologist specialising in human rights. Over the next few years, she participated in six more UN fact-finding missions in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. She uncovered the wire-bound wrists of Srebrenica massacre victims, disinterred the body of a young man in southwestern Kosovo as his grandfather looked on in silence, and discovered among the bodies of hospital patients the curious case of a Croatian with x-rays stuffed down the back of his robe.

The Bone Woman is Koff's powerful, deeply personal account of her training in human rights forensic anthropology, her growing awareness of the human dimension of genocide, and her struggle to come to terms with her role in the reconciliation and healing process of a family--and a nation. Koff details, with a no-holds-barred frankness, what day-to-day life was like as part of a dedicated, multinational team of forensic anthropologists, archaeologists, pathologists, technicians, workers and soldiers: the harsh, sometimes terrifying and potentially violent conditions under which they lived and laboured, not to mention the old bugaboo of politics. She gives a clear, informed, insider's view of her work and her struggle to maintain the necessary professional distance while coming face-to-face with the obvious brutality of the victims' deaths and the pain of the survivors.

While there is much that is similar across these missions, Koff takes special care to emphasise what is distinct to each. Each killing field has its own story. Each victim is an individual whose personhood and personal history were to be erased and rendered anonymous. Yet at the same time, each story carries a universal warning that we all must heed, so as not to fall into the error of viewing what happened in a given place and time as an isolated incident that will never be repeated. --Diana Kuprel,

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