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

  • Author
    • Alexa Hagerty
Regular price £12.99
Regular price Sale price £12.99

Anticipated publication date

Apr 11, 2024

We will deliver the product within a reasonable period of time following the publication date, which is an estimated date and is subject to change. Whilst we anticipate that the book will be published on this date, should this date change, we will notify you within a reasonable period of time.


'Essential reading as a human.' - Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
'Chilling and vital. . . sensitive and thought-provoking.' - The Times

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.

"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."

Over the course of Guatemala's thirty-year armed conflict -the longest ever in Central America-over 200,000 people were killed. During Argentina's military dictatorship in the seventies, over 30,000 people were disappeared. Today, forensic anthropologists in each country are gathering evidence to prove atrocities and seek justice. But these teams do more than just study skeletons-they work to repair families and countries torn apart by violence.

In Still Life with Bones, anthropologist Alexa Hagerty learns to see the dead body with a forensic eye. She examines bones for evidence of torture and fatal wounds-hands bound by rope, cuts from machetes-but also for signs of a life lived: to articulate how life shapes us down to the bone. 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. In the tenderness of understanding these bones, Hagerty discovers how exhumation serves as a ritual in the naming and placement of the dead, and connects ancestors with future generations. She shows us how this work can bring meaning to families dealing with unimaginable loss, and how its symbolic force can also extend to entire societies in the aftermath of state terror and genocide. Encountering the dead has the power to transform us, making us consider each other, our lives, and the world differently.

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
  • Published: Apr 11 2024
  • ISBN: 9781472295798

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Press Reviews

  • Dame Professor Sue Black, anatomist and bestselling author of ALL THAT REMAINS

    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.
  • Francisco Cantú, New York Times bestselling author of THE LINE BECOMES A RIVER

    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.
  • T.M. Luhrmann, author of HOW GOD BECOMES REAL

    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.
  • Sally Hayden, author of THE FOURTH TIME WE DROWNED

    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.
  • Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author THE FACT OF A BODY

    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.
  • Cristina Rivera Garza, author of LILIANA'S INVINCIBLE SUMMER

    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.
  • Francisco Goldman, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist MONKEY BOY

    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.
  • Dr Suzie Edge, author of MORTAL MONARCHS

    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.
  • Clea Koff, author of THE BONE WOMAN

    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.
  • 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

    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.
  • The Times
    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.
  • New Scientist
    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.
  • The Irish Times
    Powerful and harrowing ... told with clarity, compassion and utmost respect for those cruelly killed and for those who grieve for them.
  • The Sunday Post
    Haunting ... will stay with you long after the final word.
  • The Times Literary Supplement
    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.