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Still Life With Bones by Alexa Hagerty


 

Xolo Score 3.5/5

 

Still Life with Bones is a haunting and poignant exploration of mortality, memory, and the human condition. Through a captivating blend of memoir and social anthropology, Hagerty dives into the genocides and secret killings in Guatemala and Argentina. It spotlights the emotional turmoil and ethical dilemma of identifying loved ones who fell victim to horrific crimes executed by the country’s respective governments. Naming the dead is regarded as “a sacred obligation” that is only afforded to affluent communities with the resources and political backing to confront the terrors of their past.



 

*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

 

One of the book’s most compelling aspects is its exploration of the intersection between research and mortality. Hagerty examines how anthropologists historically uncover mass graves with precision and dissociation of the socio-political context in attempts to provide something resembling closure. She acknowledges that extracting the bones and the stories they carry as a “North American anthropologist” is inappropriate when the U.S. played an active role in causing and condoning the very atrocities that make up her research. Hagerty demonstrated vulnerability in flagging these hypocrisies and how they cause her internal conflict. Mainly when she meets families of the deceased and how they are eager to work with her team in a desperate hope to find answers.


Throughout the book, Hagerty balances academic study and personal narrative, weaving together theory and lived experience. Whether delving into determining the sex of a skull or speaking with family members of human rights abuses, she approaches each topic with sensitivity and depth. Hagerty also provides extensive historical context so that those new to the topic have a clear picture of the socio-political circumstances that allowed governments to execute dissidents without restraint. And demonstrate that these horrors can easily repeat themselves if we do not learn from the bones of our collective human history.


Still Life with Bones is a fascinating exploration of the human experience, and it’s unfortunate that in writing their analysis of their time in Guatemala and Argentina, Hagerty relies on stereotyping Guatemala for its violent past. Both Guatemala and Argentina have a history of violence and instability that they continuously work to subvert. Yet, Guatemala, a majority Indigenous and mixed-race country, is portrayed in the book as crime-ridden, while Argentina is afforded nuance in understanding its history of insecurity.


Still Life With Bones is a powerful reflection on our capacity for violence and healing.

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*Disclaimer: A copy of the book was sent by the book's editor

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