REVIEWED BY KEITH JONES
Paolo Scott (2019)
The literature of Brazil was unknown to me before Daniel Hahn (with the Suffolk Book League on March 16th) spoke to us about his many translations from Portuguese and Spanish. As a result, I found Paolo Scott's Phenotypes in his masterly translation, and was engrossed. We enter the world of Federico to become immersed in his thought processes at different times in his life (he is ultimately about 50 years old). He has a man with a successful career behind him, and now taking part in a commission in Brasilia, concerned with how to address national problems of race and colour. What steps should be made to overcome the continuing prejudices which make life difficult for people of various colours – phenotypes or genomes? Federico has a particular angle on this, as he is the brother of Lourenço who is much more black than he is (Federico usually passes for white). This makes him sensitive to the way black people for example are treated. We accompany him in vivid flashbacks to early times in his life, especially a night when he was involved in an affray outside a club which nearly ended in disaster. The same man who aroused the seventeen-year-old Federico's anger now surfaces again, in a position of authority, and Federico's anger returns. He also remembers how he had been long ago assessed for national service, in a scene of naked racism, homophobia and bullying. So the book uncovers the latent violence throughout the country's life, based on division, classification and prejudice. I found this a moving and intricate book, which deserves a second reading. Scott's long sentences give one admission not only to information about events but the thought processes of a highly emotional and responsive person, with hangups and tensions which we get to share. A searching, memorable read.