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The Bone Woman


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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.


In 1996, at age 23, Koff went from graduate school in forensic anthropology to forensic investigative work in Kibuye, Rwanda, as part of a team sent by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) following the genocide. She participated in six other missions, recovering bodies following mass murders in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. This is a first-person account of her experiences. When the women of Vukovar, Croatia, resisted having bodies exhumed because they wanted to find their relatives alive, the author was forced to question the true value of her work. But she realized that the evidence revealed the commission of a terrible crime against humanity and came to accept that forensic analysis would allow the victims to incriminate their killers and history to be written as accurately as possible. This is a brave book, presented in a clear voice by a scientist who is confident that her missions will get to the truth and yet human enough to cry at the horror of it all. For history, anthropology, and women's studies collections.-Joan W. Gartland, Detroit P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"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'

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