In his introduction to Phenotypes, the book’s translator Daniel Hahn explains the long-standing complexities and ambiguities of racial classification in Brazil, providing a brief overview of the country’s chequered history of colourism. Starting in 2016, at the height of Brazil’s racial quota controversy, the novel thoroughly explores these issues; however, without the context initially provided by Hahn, some readers may struggle to find their footing at the beginning of the narrative.
This isn’t helped, in part, by the dense, stream-of-consciousness prose, and the fact that the narrative itself takes a while to find its feet, getting off to a slightly sluggish start and feeling more like a thinly veiled polemic than a proper story. Yet things markedly improve once Federico moves out of the dry confines of committee meetings and into a deftly engaging plot that twists and turns while exploring race, brotherhood, privilege, and the lasting impact of guilt.
Author Paulo Scott is an excellent writer, showing us the flaws of his characters through their actions in Phenotypes rather than weighing us down with exposition, and Federico’s voice feels distinct and authentic – his conflicts entirely believable. Hahn’s translation is exemplary, and although this is not an easy read, it is a journey worth taking.
Phenotypes, Paulo Scott [trans. Daniel Hahn] (And Other Stories)
Price: £10. Info: here
words JOSHUA REES
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