#276: Listening to the Dead

There are mass graves all over Latin America, but the concentration of dead and disappeared in Guatemala and Argentina is staggering: more than 200,000 killed by the state in Guatemala’s 36-year conflict, known simply as “La Violencia;” up to 30,000 disappeared by the Argentine military dictatorship over the course of its reign of terror in the 1970s and ’80s. How does a country reckon with crimes against humanity? How do the families of the missing find the truth? “Forensic exhumation is practiced at the crossroads of two ways of thinking about the body,” anthropologist Alexa Hagerty writes, “as a scientific object to be analyzed for evidence of crimes against humanity, and as a subject, an individual, someone loved and mourned.” In her new book, Still Life with Bones, Hagerty documents her training with forensic teams in Guatemala and Argentina, where members have devoted their lives to unearthing the bones of the disappeared, reconstructing not only their skeletons but the stories of their lives.

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