The Bone Woman (eBook)
In the spring of 1994, Rwanda was the scene of the first acts since World War II to be legally defined as genocide. Two years later, Clea Koff, a twenty-three-year-old forensic anthropologist analyzing prehistoric skeletons in the safe confines of Berkeley, California, was one of sixteen scientists chosen by the UN International Criminal Tribunal to go to Rwanda to unearth the physical evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity. The Bone Woman is Koff’s riveting, deeply personal account of that mission and the six subsequent missions she undertook—to Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo—on behalf of the UN.
In order to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, the UN needs to know the answer to one question: Are the bodies those of noncombatants? To answer this, one must learn who the victims were, and how they were killed. Only one group of specialists in the world can make both those determinations: forensic anthropologists, trained to identify otherwise unidentifiable human remains by analyzing their skeletons. Forensic anthropologists unlock the stories of people’s lives, as well as of their last moments.
Koff’s unflinching account of her years with the UN—what she saw, how it affected her, who was prosecuted based on evidence she found, what she learned about the world—is alternately gripping, frightening, and miraculously hopeful. Readers join Koff as she comes face-to-face with the realities of genocide: nearly five hundred bodies exhumed from a single grave in Kibuye, Rwanda; the wire-bound wrists of Srebrenica massacre victims uncovered in Bosnia; the disinterment of the body of a young man in southwestern Kosovo as his grandfather looks on in silence.
Yet even as she recounts the hellish working conditions, the tangled bureaucracy of the UN, and the heartbreak of survivors, Koff imbues her story with purpose, humanity, and an unfailing sense of justice. This is a book only Clea Koff could have written, charting her journey from wide-eyed innocent to soul-weary veteran across geography synonymous with some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century. A tale of science in the service of human rights, The Bone Woman is, even more profoundly, a story of hope and enduring moral principles.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
The daughter of a Tanzanian mother and an American father, both documentary filmmakers focused on human rights issues, Clea Koff spent her childhood in England, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia and the United States. She now divides her time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.
Praise for The Bone Woman…
“The beauty and significance of Koff’s work and of her drive to do it come through most powerfully when she is crouching over a mass grave, untangling limbs, scraping dirt from a corpse’s clothes and finding, within what most of us would see as horror, something human that speaks. . . . Surprising, compelling, and worth reading.”
–The Washington Post Book World
“Only Koff herself can explain what happens in the heart when the living meet the dead. . . . [The Bone Woman relives] what a good many people cannot imagine ever enduring. . . . Koff’s seven ‘missions’ into fields of death erase all qualitative differences between horrors dreamed and horrors unearthed.”
–Los Angeles Times
Koff knows that bones talk, and she simply lets the bones she exhumes give testimony. . . . In descriptions free of sensationalism or sentimentality, [this] emotional distance gives The Bone Woman its pared-down power.”
–MAUREEN CORRIGAN, NPR’s Fresh Air
“A highly personal account written in an engaging [style] . . . An accomplished writer . . . Koff speaks of her work with an irrepressible enthusiasm, and the kind of conviction that she believes she was born to do the job.”
–The New York Times
“Every detail — the marbles in a dead boy's pocket — seems to tell the same story, of human suffering on a scale nearly too awful to contemplate. But with each Body that Koff can prove belonged to a non-combatant, it becomes easier to successfully prosecute charges of war crimes. Her work is the place where science, idealism and humanism most intersect.”
—The Independent on Sunday
“Thomas Keneally wrote about the awkwardness of "good" as a literary subject. It is harder to make interesting than evil ... but sometimes he concluded, you find yourself staring at good in the face and just have to recognise it. So it is with The Bone Woman.”
—The Times (London)
“Her book — indeed, her life — is a testament to an idealism that shines through a grim, bloody reality.”
—The Glasgow Herald
“Part science, part expose, part personal narrative, The Bone Woman offers a rare insight into both the role of a forensic anthropologist, and the role of the UN tribunal's forensic team ... Yet, for all its forensic detail, it is Koff's deep sense of connection to the bodies she came to exhume, her unflinching sense of obligation to them, and her willingness to look at what they represent, that renders The Bone Woman compelling reading.”
—Sunday Times (Perth)
“It is a highly personal account written in an engaging I-was-there-style ... she gives a sense of the survivors and the guilt and grief they live with ... an accomplished writer ...”
—Jane Perlez, The New York Times 'Saturday Profile'