Still Life with Bones

Still Life with Bones: Genocide, Forensics, and What Remains by Alexa Hagerty

In this unique memoir, anthropologist Alexa Hagerty brings us behind the scenes of her time working with globally renowned forensic anthropology teams in Guatemala and Argentina. Together, they exhume and identify bodies from the mass graves left behind by dictatorial violence. Decades later, families of the “disappeared” still suffer from knowing their loved ones weren’t properly laid to rest. 

Hagerty’s mantra while working in grave sites is “Don’t faint. Don’t vomit.” The work is physically and emotionally difficult, but it is rewarding when victims’ bodies are identified and reunited with their families. Hagerty attends burials where community members find healing by sharing their testimonies and creating new death rituals. Along with survivors’ stories and necessary historical context, Hagerty weaves her own meditations on death, grief, and how we can create meaning for ourselves out of tragedy.  

This is a difficult but powerful read. In beautiful and highly readable prose, Hagerty unearths questions about humanity and our complicity in genocide. Gripping, poetic, and perennially important. 

Reviewed by Emma Radosevich, collection development librarian, Whatcom County Library System

(Originally published in Bellingham Alive February 2024 issue.)