One team of grave detectives told Hagerty that it takes a month per body to exhume and analyse: a doomed race against time ... But slowly, this book makes the case for such work ... Hagerty’s time in this particular well is the most awfully compelling part of the book. She descended into 'an ancient underworld, like Hades' ... You might think the subject of this sensitive and thought-provoking book is of niche interest but, as Ukraine should remind us, it is still troublingly resonant.
The stories of these excavators of the past are told compellingly in Still Life With Bones, along with the stories of those willing, despite death threats and intimidation, to defy the authorities who abducted and murdered their loved ones. Hagerty understands that the bones of the violated dead do not murmur or sing to us unless the living struggle day after day against forgetfulness, against the impunity of other sorts of hands that also proliferate in her book ... With such an array of subjects and perspectives, Hagerty has wisely opted to unravel her odyssey in visceral vignettes. Besides the advantage of freeing her voice to slip back and forth in time and space, her narrative, thus fractured, reproduces the traumatic, dispersed experience of the bones themselves, and the interrupted lives of the survivors. But such a strategy can also lead her to end some segments with more drama and metaphors than necessary ... These moments do not detract from the power of this haunted and fascinating book.
Woven throughout these memories and lyrical reflections on bones, anthropology and storytelling are the actual horrors that some particular bones reveal ... Every beautifully written page of this extraordinary book affirms the individuality of each victim, and honors the living who serve them and their survivors.