Federico has light skin, which means he's always been able to avoid the worst of the racism Brazilian culture has to offer. Because of this, he has devoted his life to racial justice. 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. Then 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 his brother hid for a friend decades before. A gun used in a killing.
...seamlessly translated ... This is an artfully plotted tale about race, privilege and guilt. Scott circles around the inflammatory event that occurred decades before – a racist comment that provoked a violent fight among teenagers – and demonstrates how quickly prejudice spreads, often with lifelong repercussions ... Scott’s characterisation is superb. Federico’s complexities are revealed through his interactions with others, their different views of him, his public image and inner angst ... The stream-of-consciousness narrative, long sentences, paragraphs that run over pages and lack of speech tags are challenging, but careful reading proves richly rewarding. Phenotypes educates and entertains in equal measure.
Scott approaches complex national and personal questions with tremendous thoughtfulness and skill. Phenotypes is a short novel styled by engaging and epically long sentences, and there are no throwaway moments or scenes ... national history and individual perspectives collide ... Scott offers insights on Brazil, Federico and human nature as the specific becomes universal during an everyday moment ... we're treated to a keen, multifaceted and subtle look at the cultural and personal complexities of race and color and history. Phenotypes is entertaining. It's brilliant and emotionally resonant. I put it down days ago, and I'm still walking around with it.
Phenotypes offers few answers—and expecting them from a single work of fiction would be futile. Instead, Scott opens the floodgates to a myriad of questions, probing the uncomfortable topics that his fictional (but all too real) bureaucrats would rather leave undisturbed. Posed as the novel’s eyes and ears, Federico is the lens through which we view these issues, and the means by which we understand the racially charged situation in Brazil ... It is this personal angle that brings the novel’s broad, sweeping themes into sharp focus. But the novel’s most striking feature—one that jumps out from the first page—is Scott’s sprawling and idiosyncratic writing style. He favours long sentences (in fact, the novel’s second sentence spans twenty-one lines and is incredibly broad in scope), but the writing is taut and polished, never rambling ... 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.