A smart and stylish account of the bigotry lurking in hearts and institutions alike
Federico and Lourenço are brothers. Their father is black, a famed forensic pathologist for the police; their mother is white. Federico—distant, angry, analytical—has light skin, which means he’s always been able to avoid the worst of the racism Brazilian culture has to offer. He can “pass” as white, and yet, because of this, he has devoted his life to racial justice. Lourenço, on the other hand, is dark-skinned, easygoing, and well-liked in the brothers’ hometown of Porto Alegre—and has become a father himself.
As Federico’s fiftieth birthday looms, he joins a ludicrous yet chilling governmental committee in the capital. It is tasked with quelling the increasingly violent student protests rocking Brazil by overseeing the design of new piece of software that will remove the question of race from the hands of fallible, human, prejudiced college administrators by adjudicating who does and doesn’t warrant admittance as a non-white applicant under new affirmative-action quotas. Before he can come to grips with his feelings about this initiative, not to mention a budding romance with one of his committee colleagues, Federico is called home: his niece has just been arrested at a protest carrying a concealed gun. And not just any gun. A stolen police service revolver that he and Lourenço hid for a friend decades before. A gun used in a killing.
Paulo Scott here probes the old wounds of race in Brazil, and in particular the loss of a black identity independent from the history of slavery. Exploratory rather than didactic, a story of crime, street-life and regret as much as a satirical novel of ideas, Phenotypes is a seething masterpiece of rage and reconciliation.
Longlisted for the International Booker Prize
“Phenotypes demonstrates how the traumas of growing up in a racist society can propel a person of color forward while never letting them escape their past.” —Southwest Review
“Phenotypes underscores how difficult antiracist projects can be at any scale…Scott’s characters quickly abandon the possibility of a comprehensive solution in favor of stopgap measures that may or may not work. Such are the inadequacies, the novel asserts, of treating entrenched and systemic issues as if they are only skin-deep.” —New York Times Book Review
“This is an artfully plotted tale about race, privilege and guilt…Phenotypes educates and entertains in equal measure.” —The Observer
“Phenotypes is…brilliant and emotionally resonant. I put it down days ago, and I'm still walking around with it.” —Star Tribune
“A compelling exploration of the fraught reality of race relations in Brazil . . . there is much that English-speaking readers stand to gain from the considered, quiet fury of Paulo Scott’s novel, not least the expansion of and challenge to modern-day discourses on race.” —Times Literary Supplement
“Phenotypes is a complex, stream-of-consciousness novel about race, culture, and deciding for oneself where one belongs.” —Foreword Reviews
“[A] profound story of colorism and familial loyalty set in Brazil…The multiple layers combine for a mesmerizing and mature story.” —Publishers Weekly starred review
“Scott pours out his indictment of Brazil in long, overflowing sentences that are equal parts outrage and cutting humor. Originally titled Brown and Yellow when it was published in Portuguese…it is not easy to shake off.” Kirkus Review
“A blistering examination of Brazil's fraught racial history told through two brothers, one light-skinned and one dark-skinned.” —Katie Goh, i-D (Books to Read 2022)
“Federico, the white-passing mixed-race narrator of Paulo Scott’s stirring new novel Phenotypes, grips you from his opening words, and what a story he has to tell. Ostensibly sending up a Brazilian governmental bureaucracy’s attempts to address problems with the racial quota system in its higher education, Scott quickly shows that he has penned a profound, coruscating exploration of race, racism, colorism, family dynamics, class, culture, regionalism, politics, radicalism, and so much more. Scott’s intricate, ironic, entrancing narration, skillfully rendered into English by Daniel Hahn, confirms Scott as one of Brazil’s finest contemporary writers.” —John Keene
“Scott seems to have managed to produce a novel that will survive the test of time, a profound interpretation of our time and our country.” —Folha de São Paulo
"[Phenotypes’] deftly engaging plot . . . twists and turns while exploring race, brotherhood, privilege, and the lasting impact of guilt. Hahn’s translation is exemplary, and although this is not an easy read, it is a journey worth taking." —Joshua Rees, Buzz
“Phenotypes is innovative, deftly precise in its form, and utterly profound in its content. Scott’s work in bringing contemporary urgencies into fiction is uncomfortable and often unsettling, but necessary—and, ultimately, unforgettable.” —Rachel Farmer, Asymptote
Praise for Paulo Scott
“A powerful, complex and very ambitious voice. In the contemporary Latin American literature scene, Paulo Scott is a must-read.” —Juan Pablo Villalobos