Culture Editor Ilina Jha reviews Failures of Forgiveness by Myisha Cherry, praising the thoughtful and transformative content of the book

Written by Ilina Jha

I had only read the first two chapters of Myisha Cherry’s Failures of Forgiveness: What We Get Wrong and How to Do Better when I was convinced that this book was going to get a stellar review from me. This forthcoming publication from Princeton University Press is a fascinating examination of forgiveness, its conceptions and misconceptions, and how we can best extend (or choose not to extend) forgiveness in our lives with reparative aims. This is the oldest cliché in the world of literary reviewing, but believe me when I say that everyone should read this book.

Cherry is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, and I think she is quite possibly my new favourite academic. But just because the author is a highly intelligent and thoughtful academic, do not be deceived into thinking that Failures of Forgiveness is a dense, demanding work of scholarship that only the most advanced philosophy undergraduates could understand. This is a book written for the general reader. Cherry’s arguments are well-developed and supported, and it is evident that she has conducted extensive research, but she writes with a clarity that makes her work accessible to all.

[Cherry] writes with a clarity that makes her work accessible to all

The main aim of Failures of Forgiveness is to explain why many of our common conceptions about forgiveness are misleading and dangerous. For example, Cherry points out the dangers in believing that forgiveness can act as a quick fix for wrongdoing, as well as highlighting the problems with asking victims for forgiveness when the wrongdoing has been an act rooted in systemic injustice (for example, racist police brutality). Additionally, Cherry disputes the notion that ‘you have to forgive and forget to move on,’ arguing that choosing to withhold forgiveness can in some cases be the beneficial action to take. Failures of Forgiveness makes a strong case for expanding our narrow ideas of forgiveness into a broader definition that is more realistic and flexible. In such a definition, forgiveness is also just one tool in the toolbox of reparative actions that aim at relief, release, and reconciliation. Failures of Forgiveness is a well-structured book: it covers different situations where forgiveness can fail us (such as courtrooms, workplaces, and families) in distinct chapters, each chapter flowing on logically from the previous one.

Well-written, thoughtful, and highly intelligent, this book has transformed my understanding of forgiveness

For me, the chief strength of Failures of Forgiveness is that Cherry does not just highlight our societal problems with forgiveness whilst only offering flimsy, theoretical improvements: instead, she outlines actionable, practical ways in which we can use forgiveness and aim at reparation better, and explains why these solutions work. Indeed, Cherry even compiles useful, concise tables of featuring situations, potential problems, and the best forgiveness and reparative solutions we can use, making it very easy to apply her recommendations to our own lives. In a way, Failures of Forgiveness is a very effective self-help book, with a very specific focus on forgiveness that can benefit not just our own lives, but the lives of others and society as a whole. By understanding and utilising forgiveness better, Cherry hopes that we can all make better progress with what she terms ‘radical repair’ – repair that gets to the roots of the problem in a situation in order to fix it, whether that’s a couple’s infidelity or a community grappling with severe, systemic racial violence.

Overall, Failures of Forgiveness is a fantastic new work from Myisha Cherry. Well-written, thoughtful, and highly intelligent, this book has transformed my understanding of forgiveness, and I will certainly be taking Cherry’s advice on board. We do not usually rate the books we review here at Redbrick Culture, but trust me when I say that this book would get all the stars from me if we did. Failures of Forgiveness is a must-read for everyone.


(Failures of Forgiveness: What We Get Wrong and How to Do Better by Myisha Cherry will be published on Tuesday 19th September by Princeton University Press.)

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