The Bone Woman

A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Published ten years after the genocide in Rwanda, The Bone Woman is a riveting, deeply personal account by a forensic anthropologist sent on seven missions by the UN War Crimes Tribunal.

To prosecute charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, the UN needs proof that the bodies found are those of non-combatants. This means answering two questions: who the victims were, and how they were killed. The only people who can answer both these questions are forensic anthropologists.

Before being sent to Rwanda in 1996, Clea Koff was a twenty-three-year-old graduate student studying prehistoric skeletons in the safe confines of Berkeley, California. Over the next four years, her gruelling investigation into events that shocked the world transformed her from a wide-eyed student into a soul-weary veteran — and a wise and deeply thoughtful woman. Her unflinching account of those years — what she saw, how it affected her, who went to trial based on evidence she collected — makes for an unforgettable read, alternately riveting, frightening and miraculously hopeful. Readers join Koff as she comes face to face with the human meaning of genocide: exhuming almost five hundred bodies from a single grave in Kibuye, Rwanda; uncovering the wire-bound wrists of Srebrenica massacre victims in Bosnia; disinterring the body of a young man in southwestern Kosovo as his grandfather looks on in silence. As she recounts the fascinating details of her work, the hellish working conditions, the bureaucracy of the UN, and the heartbreak of survivors, Koff imbues her story with an immense sense of hope, humanity and justice.

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1.

THE blood's long gone

it took twenty-four hours to fly from california to Rwanda. I crossed ten time zones and ate two breakfasts, but there was one constant: my thoughts of Kibuye church and the job I had to do there. Most of the facts I knew were bounded by the dates of the genocide: the church was in...
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READING GUIDE

1. Koff uses the term "double vision" to describe how she views the bodies she excavates — she looks at them as both objects of scientific evidence and loved ones of grieving families and friends left behind. How does this double vision help Koff complete her work? At what points in The Bone Woman...

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PRAISE FOR

“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

“There are only a handful of people who have seen and felt (and smelt) what the violence of the new world order has wrought, and she is one of them ... 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'

“Honest and effective…. A deeply personal chronicle.”
The Globe and Mail