Saturday, April 25, 2009

Books, bones and silvery threads.

Last Easter Saturday the local Progress Association held their annual Easter Fair at the campsite. Among the various stalls and tableful's of home-made jams, cakes, pies and pasties; hand knitted pot-holders and pullovers; barbecues sizzling with sausages and onions; shed full of sundry second-hand goods; a wheel of “try yer luck”, and an eight prize raffle – was a marquee stacked with cardboard boxes full of BOOKS!

Now, a dearth of available electricity sort of puts a strain on the use of electronic diversions and/or sources of information. Have, of course, taken to spending a large portion of the day reading – re-engaging by sunlight with the printed word. Mostly paperbacks picked up for 50c each from whatever Op-shop I happen to be passing while “in town”. Had, of course, read everything I had by Easter Saturday, sooo .. dislodged the spiders, moths and dust that mostly inhabit my wallet, found $15-00, bought 12 more.

Won't give a booklist, mostly “popular” paperbacks – Le Carré, Deighton, Reginald Hill ..

There was, however, ONE that affected me like no other. Reached deep into the “silvery thread” of my common humanity. Perhaps have become just another oldish softy sook; but began weeping on page 2. Every few pages after that, my diaphragm would twitch into inadvertent silent sobs.

The Author writes with the authority of first-hand experience; the detailed discipline of a trained scientist, the clear eye and humour of youth; the curiosity of the detective; with word rhythms reminiscent of the deft touch of a classical pianist – underpinned by the deepest soul of a poet.

Page 1, -

At 10.30 in the morning on Tuesday 9 January 1996, I was on a hillside in Rwanda, suddenly doing what I always wanted to do. I took stock of my surroundings as though taking a photograph. I looked up: banana leaves. Down: a human skull. To my left: more banana leaves. To my right: a forest of small trees. Directly in front of me: air. I was sitting on a steep slope, in the midst of a banana grove. My knees were pulled up tight to stop me from slipping down – the skull hadn't been so fortunate. It had rolled down to this point from a point higher up the slope, leaving behind the rest of its body.


This particular indignity had not been inflicted on this skull alone; indeed, I was surrounded by skulls, surrounded by people who had been killed on this very slope one and a half years earlier. Most of their heads had rolled away since then. I was there to find the heads and get them back to their bodies.

She goes on to document her experiences, her journey, from a 23 year old graduate forensic anthropologist with, perhaps, starry eyed notions of “truth and justice” to a woman who, despite “scientific” dispassion, goes beyond mere "documentation of evidence" for the genocide trials in The Hague; succumbs to the linkage uniting herself; with the dead – and with the families and lives they left behind.

for the seekers of the silvery threads”

The Author is Clea Koff – forensic anthropologist with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal ,Rwanda [ICTR], and International Criminal Tribunal, (former) Yugoslavia [ICTY] teams; January 1996 – July 2000.

The book -

The Bone Woman”.

Among the dead in Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo


Published in Australia 2004, by Hodder Headline Australia Pty. Ltd.

ISBN 0 7336 1641 0

Find it; beg, borrow or steal it. Read it.

This book is, perhaps, more poignant for me; since my father never came home from the second "war to end all wars" of 1939-'45. Still listed as “missing”. No body: not even the tiniest skerrick of bone.

What more can I say;

Not by my side.

Bones scattered wide,

Washed by the tide

in the waters of Vansittart Bay.

5 comments:

Vincent said...

Yes, I go to second-hand bookshops and quite apart from the high prices, never find what I want: only in the unlikely places, such as bric-a-brac shops or charity shops, where books are just another sideline. The other day found Art & Lies which introduced me to the wonderful fiction of Jeanette Masterson, who I should add is not to everyone's taste; but that isn't the point. The point is to be guided to the right book, the one that's just right for now, the one that changes everything, because it makes one feel, as your Bone Woman so poignantly has.

Davo said...

Vincent, can't remember where I read it .. one death is personal, 3 are a tragedy, 250 are noticeable.

GreenSmile said...

Thanks for the tip, Davo. I have averted my attention from the whole of Africa and its terminally pathological social fabric. It would be nice to find a silver thread woven somewhere, god help us ANY where, in that fabric.

Davo said...

umm, wondering where the 'jesus' myth came from .. heh.

Davo said...

perhaps far more "death and destruction" came from Europe than any notion that the Southern hemisphere ever envisaged.