If ever a work was concisely but exquisitely summed up, it is in this description from a Los Angeles Times reviewer: “the true story of how people became books.”
Megan Rosenblum is a medical librarian in LA who is also involved in the Death Salon movement and works with its sister organisation The Order of the Good Death. She is also an acclaimed obituarist. Her life experience has made her intimately associated with death and eminently qualified to write on the topic with acumen.
Dark Archives is a study of books that have been bound in human skin, the art of anthropodermic bibliopegy. The Nazi treatment of murdered Jews, using their skin for lampshades, might make the practice appear repulsive. Rosenbloom’s excavation of the dark archives shows that embroidery from human remains has been on the go for quite some time and long predates the Holocaust. Often, hosting libraries which house such books in their collections remain reticent about allowing the necessary tests to be conducted that would, where appropriate, conclusively prove the human provenance of the binding.
In her dark dig, Rosenblum fashions a collective out of a seemingly disparate range of individuals: morticians, mothers, doctors, scientists, archivists, grave robbers and those adroit in body dissection and medical malpractice.
The book is a journey through a moral maze where every turn begs an ethical question. Regarding such works as fruit from the poisonous tree, there is no shortage of people calling for the modern equivalent of book burning. Rosenbloom counters that:
artifacts of abominable acts have a serious value . . . we are stewards of the books in our care, especially when those books contain unpopular ideas, and we must do all we can to preserve and protect them.
Unfortunately for some, grotty, even grotesque, but fortunately a book that is a skinful of erudition.
Megan Rosenblum, 2020, Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin. Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN-978-0374134709
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