Phenotypes by Paulo Scott (Translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn) - review by Patrick Graney

Patrick Graney

True Colours

Phenotypes

By

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The fact that the title of Paulo Scott’s 2019 novel Marrom e Amarelo (‘Brown and Yellow’) has been translated as Phenotypes shows the difficulty of communicating Brazil’s complex racial politics to Anglophone readers. Scott’s principled but troubled narrator, Federico, who is light-skinned, participates in a government commission on racial quotas at universities. He is forced to abandon his role, however, when a revolver he hid many years ago with his brother Lourenço, who is dark-skinned, becomes a central part of a case involving Lourenço’s daughter, who has been caught up in student protests.

At the heart of Phenotypes is the relationship between racial self-identification and the labels assigned to us. In obsessively detailed and sometimes exhausting prose, Scott deftly conveys Federico’s anxieties in this regard: Federico’s mixed parentage and his upbringing in a predominantly black neighbourhood are juxtaposed with his pale skin, such that he questions the authenticity of his dedication to fighting racial injustice. Scott is particularly sharp when describing the rambling debates within the commission, leaving the reader with the impression that, in Brazil, people of colour are pawns in a heartless system that favours the semblance of justice over justice itself.

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