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Still Life with Bones: A forensic quest for justice among Latin America’s mass graves

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781472295798

Price: £12.99

ON SALE: 11th April 2024

Genre: Biography & True Stories

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“Has the makings of a classic.” The TLS

“Chilling and vital. . . sensitive and thought-provoking.” – The Times

“Exhumation can divide brothers and restore fathers, open old wounds and open the possibility of regeneration-of building something new with the pile of broken mirrors that is loss and mourning.”

In this haunting and poetic account, anthropologist Alexa Hagerty joins forensic teams and families of the missing as they search for the hundreds of thousands victims of genocidal violence unleashed by authoritarian governments in Latin America.

In Guatemala and Argentina, she learns to see the dead body with a forensic eye. She examines bones for evidence of torture and cause of death – hands bound by rope, cuts from machetes – but also for signs of a life lived: a weaver is recognized from the tiny bones of the toes, molded by years of kneeling before a loom; a girl is identified alongside her pet dog.

Hagerty shows us how exhumation can bring meaning to families dealing with unimaginable loss and justice to societies in the aftermath of state terror and genocide. Weaving together powerful stories about investigative breakthroughs, grieving families, histories of violence, and her own forensic coming of age, Hagerty crafts a moving portrait of the living and the dead.

Touching, but achingly honest – a most amazing account of training as a forensic anthropologist. When Hagerty talks about “lives being violently made into bones,” I defy you not to be moved. The text is unflinching, but then the crimes and the victims deserve nothing less. I guarantee this will make you think long and hard about cruelty and human rights and the dedication and humanity of the forensic scientist.” – Sue Black, author of All That remains

‘Essential reading as a human.’ – Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of Fact of a Body


Touching, but achingly honest-a most amazing account of training as a forensic anthropologist. When Hagerty talks about "lives being violently made into bones," I defy you not to be moved. The text is unflinching, but then the crimes and the victims deserve nothing less. I guarantee this will make you think long and hard about cruelty and human rights and the dedication and humanity of the forensic scientist.
Dame Professor Sue Black, anatomist and bestselling author of ALL THAT REMAINS
In this unforgettable debut, Alexa Hagerty reveals the intimacy and sacredness of forensics, revealing it as a task that, despite its Sisyphean nature, is evermore vital to preservation of memory, story, and ritual-a slow, intricate counterweight to the obliterating power of modern violence. Still Life with Bones is at once horrifying and impossibly hopeful.
Francisco Cantú, New York Times bestselling author of THE LINE BECOMES A RIVER
Still Life with Bones will hold readers rapt. Hagerty takes us deeply inside the experience of an anthropologist learning to dispassionately decode scientific clues while never forgetting that in each bone there is a brutally murdered person who still cries. A startling and profound meditation on death and resilience.
T.M. Luhrmann, author of HOW GOD BECOMES REAL
Still Life With Bones is a stunning book, which forces the reader to ask themselves questions about grief, justice, the cruelty humans are capable of, and what it means to be human inthe first place. I learnt so much about the quiet but essential work forensic anthropologists are doing as they slowly and carefully uncover the recent, violent, past in many countries, and bring some closure to relatives still searching for their missing loved ones. Dr Alexa Hagerty's writing is beautiful. The dedication of the people she meets shines through, offering hope that there can be some accountability for the crimes that have taken place, as well as a warning to anyone who might carry them out in the future.
Sally Hayden, author of THE FOURTH TIME WE DROWNED
Meticulous, luminous, utterly brilliant. The prose is as delicate and sharp as a ribcage, but the book's beating heart is Alexa Hagerty's wise and compassionate voice, a welcome guide through the atrocities she documents. Equally powerful on the horrors we do one another and the care we are capable of, Still Life with Bones is essential reading as a human.
Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author THE FACT OF A BODY
Still Life with Bones is a well-researched, electrifying read, full of profound personal insight and intellectual generosity. Bones tell chilling stories about our past, but they preserve, too, the potency of alternative outcomes. Alexa Hagerty unlocks this possibility with wisdom and compassion.
Cristina Rivera Garza, author of LILIANA'S INVINCIBLE SUMMER
Alexa Hagerty, a Chekhovian angel of science and poetry, of the sacred and infernal, wrote this intimate, moving, mesmerizing book about the forensic specialists who draw from bones stories of humanity at its most evil and depraved, but also of love and devotion at their most heartbreaking, courageous, and inspiring. The world is what it is, its global sorrows ever mounting, but this treasure of a book somehow makes it more bearable.
Francisco Goldman, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist MONKEY BOY
Alexa Hagerty is a compassionate, honest witness to the harrowing past of Latin America. Along with the scientific study of graves and bones comes a touching personal story of learning, of the feelings of differing cultures, and of the shared need to find justice amongst stark stories of inhumanity. Still Life with Bones is gripping and emotive, digging into the past whilst providing a profound warning to our future.
Dr Suzie Edge, author of MORTAL MONARCHS
With poetic prose, Hagerty takes us to a liminal space between life and death, where forensic anthropologists descend into darkness in search of light. In this remarkable book, she ascends to shine a light that only an anthropologist could, bathing the bones of the disappeared in their stories and in history, politics, and family testimony. Illuminated too are the forensic scientists and Hagerty herself. This is a must-read.
Clea Koff, author of THE BONE WOMAN
With great sensitivity and nuance, Hagerty gives us a compelling first-person ethnographic window into the realities, rationalities, and complexities of forensic work in Latin America. This beautifully written ethnography is a must read for those seeking to understand not just the history of state-sponsored murder in Guatemala and Argentina, but also the important relationship between the painstaking forensic science needed to identify bodies and the interrelated emotional worlds of victim's families and anthropologists seeking justice.
Jason De León, Director of the Undocumented Migration Project and the Colibri Center for Human Rights, author of THE LAND OF OPEN GRAVES: LIVING AND DYING ON THE MIGRANT TRAIL
Chilling and vital... dictators past and future need to know that literal and symbolic cover-ups will be uncovered... you might think that the subject of this sensitive and thought-provoking book is of niche interest but, as Ukraine should remind us, it is still troublingly resonant.
The Times
Moving and beautiful, harrowing and horrifying ... a single sentence can stop you in your tracks ... stark and upsetting, but also deeply humane and shot through with a hard-won wisdom. You will see forensics in a new light.
New Scientist
Powerful and harrowing ... told with clarity, compassion and utmost respect for those cruelly killed and for those who grieve for them.
The Irish Times
Haunting ... will stay with you long after the final word.
The Sunday Post
She is an exceptional writer, eloquently exploring both the practicalities and the symbolism of her work, sidestepping clunky metaphors while finding startling new ones ... Philosophical, poetic, never mawkish, Hagerty's book has the makings of a classic.
The Times Literary Supplement