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Booker International Longlist 2022 – Phenotypes


Phenotypes by Paulo Scott Translated by Daniel Hahn

Book – 7

Reviewed by BookWorm & Tracy

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: Paulo Scott delivers a smart and stylish account of the bigotry lurking in hearts and institutions alike. Translated by Daniel Hahn.

In this complex tale, two very different brothers of mixed black and white heritage are divided by the colour of their skin, as racial tension rises in society and a guilty secret resurfaces from their shared past.

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.

BookWorm’s Thoughts:  I really appreciated this look at life in Brazil from the point of view of a man from a black family who could pass for white. The story opens as Federico is working as part of a committee formed to make sure that the education system in Brazil is treating black students as a priority to make up for years of white superiority. The issues facing the committee are what makes a student black is it solely skin colour or should family history and community be taken into account. As Federico could pass for white but identifies as black where does he fit into the changing narrative of Brazil?

An incident occurs which means Federico is forced to leave the committee and to help his brother with a major problem in the family. The roots of this problem have their history in Federico’s past where he has not always been a model citizen.

The narrative then moves between past and present as the reader is pulled deeper into the story of Federico and his family. A story of racism, violence and guilt.

Loved the afterword by the narrator about the complexities of translating the ideas of Brazilian Black and White into English where the connotations are very different.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16/20


Tracy’s Thoughts: I read a lot about racism. I’m a  white woman who grew up in a small midwestern town with very little diversity, and during a time when TV, music and movies were insensitive at best.

So I like to do all I can to understand, and become a better person.

Phenotypes gives a different look at racism- the main character and his full brother share the same genes, but one has privilege because of his facial features and skin color, and the other doesn’t.  Add in an adult niece who finds a gun from a decades old incident, a cop who remembers, and a lot of back story, and you have an interesting take on modern day Brazil.

I liked the story, and I learned something. What took away from the story for me was how the author was aware and speaking out about racial issues, but the main character treated women as if he were a caveman. One step forward, just to take a step or two back.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 16/20

Elena Knows 18.25
Books of Jacob 18.25
Cursed Bunny17.17
Heaven 16.5
Happy Stories, Mostly 16
Phenotypes 16
After the Sun 11.33

Have you read this one? Let us know your thoughts

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