The Bone Woman by Clea Koff

The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo - Clea Koff

TITLE:  The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo


AUTHOR:  Clea Koff




FORMAT:  Paperback





"In 1994, Rwanda was the scene of the first acts since World War II to be legally defined as genocide. Two years later, Clea Koff, a twenty-three-year-old forensic anthropologist, left the safe confines of a lab in Berkeley, California, to serve as one of sixteen scientists chosen by the United Nations to unearth the physical evidence of the Rwandan genocide. Over the next four years, Koff’s grueling investigations took her across geography synonymous with some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century.

The Bone Woman is Koff’s unflinching, riveting account of her seven UN missions to Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Rwanda, as she shares what she saw, how it affected her, who was prosecuted based on evidence she found, and what she learned about the world. Yet even as she recounts the hellish nature of her work and the heartbreak of the survivors, she imbues her story with purpose, humanity, and a sense of justice. A tale of science in service of human rights, The Bone Woman is, even more profoundly, a story of hope and enduring moral principles.





This is a memoir of Koffs missions as a forensic anthropologist in Rwanada, Bosnia, Croatian and Kosovo.  The experiences as related by Koff are interesting, showing the reader how forensic anthropology field work takes place, how the sites are stakes out and bodies recovered, her relationship with her team mates and the survivors of genocide.  There is, however, minimal actual forensic anthropology "how to" information provided in the book.  This book is important to raise awareness of atrocities and genocide, but I felt Koff spent so much time complaining about her situation - the lack of equipment, disagreements with co-workder, lack of running water or fancy food - that the original purpose of the book to bring awareness to genocides and helping skeletons speak simply got lost in the background.  I would also have provided more context if Koff had included a more detailed background to the genocides that she did, and if she had included something about how her end-results were going to be used or what effect her work had.  She couldn't know all of this at time of publication, but something is better than nothing.


Themis-Athena included some of the "missing after action" information in her reviews and updates.  You can find her review with links to the relevant updates here: war-crimes-laid-bare-from-beyond-the-grave

This book wasn't bad - it does showcase the life of a forensic anthropologist on some of her international missions.  There were happy moments and poignant moments.  A worthwhile read.