Small Wrongs by Kate Rossmanith

Small Wrongs is a powerful consideration of remorse, and whether we can ever truly know it when we see it. As an ethnologist, Kate Rossmanith is more than equipped to explore this subject from a theoretical perspective, this book is far from a work of dry academia. Rossmanith’s writing is engaging, and her subject preoccupies her to such an extent that she finds it as inescapable in her personal life as it is in her professional realm.

The central thread of this absorbing book is Rossmanith’s search for the elusive legal, moral, and personal reality of remorse. Her considerable research, conducted over years, involves sitting in on court cases and interviewing numerous experts – including judges, lawyers, police, psychologists, and more. She speaks with victims of crime, and those who have committed crimes. She meets those who claim to be able to distinguish genuine from performative remorse, others who claim to feel it, and still others who simply do not feel it. In one particularly revealing interview, she meets with someone who understood the system well enough to recognise how remorse needed to be demonstrated at the crucial moment, but admits to only truly feeling it some years later.

Several parallel enquiries emerge as her research leaches into her thoughts about her personal and family life. Investigating remorse brings her to a new understanding of her childhood, and, in particular, her difficult relationship with her father. She finds she must confront the tensions in her marriage, and examine her actions as a mother. Her understanding of the measuring and weighing of offence and reparation, action and responsibility, is thrown into confusion when she finds herself involved in a traffic accident. Small Wrongs will appeal to readers with an interest in our justice system.

Elke Power is the editor of Readings Monthly.

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Small Wrongs

Small Wrongs

Kate Rossmanith

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