Literature in Quarantine: Brown and Yellow

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By Daniel Brazil*

Commentary on Paulo Scott's Latest Novel

The other day, in a conversation with friends about literature, I confessed my distaste for open endings. Most of the time, it feels like the author didn't know how to end the story. I was duly scolded by the interlocutors, a closed ending is something from the XNUMXth century, a narrative with a beginning-middle-and-end is something straight, just like the word straight. Fortunately, we were in a bar, not a symposium.

I remembered my times as a film student, the impact it had on me watching films by masters like Antonioni and Fellini with brilliant and innovative open endings (in the 1960s!), and how this became a simplistic formula in the following decades, trivializing a resource that broke with the traditional narrative, but which was soon absorbed by the “system”.

It seems to be a stigma of post-war XNUMXth century aesthetics in all the arts. Shine for a while and then be cannibalized by the relentless and voracious tribe of thinners. Perverse effect of the communications era, where every novelty is copied ad nauseam. There is no interesting finding in cinema, for example, that is not vulgarized by advertising a year later. In the plastic arts, then, better not to comment. Aspiring artist from Xiririca da Serra copies what made an impact at MoMA the previous month, thanks to the internet.

This entire preamble is to try to disguise the impact that reading the novel caused on me. brown and yellow (Alfaguara, 2019), by the gaucho Paulo Scott. An award-winning author and highly regarded by critics, Scott faces the challenge of developing a novel about the Brazilian racial issue without appearing to be a pamphleteer or a know-it-all. And it runs very well!

Lourenço and Federico are brothers, one more “brown”, the other more “yellow”, born in Porto Alegre. Federico is the narrator, militant, leader of an NGO, who is invited to participate in Brasília in a ministerial group focused on the issue of racial quotas in universities. Close to 50 years old, a failure in his love life, he recalls crucial moments in his childhood and youth lived with his “blacker” brother, who is now the basketball coach for the Rio Grande do Sul national team.

The edgy narrative flows easily as new ingredients are added to the plot. Niece Roberta is arrested in a student demonstration, and Federico returns to Porto Alegre to help his brother. His father, a retired police officer, never discussed racism at home. His mother, ditto. Dialogue between the three generations will not be easy.

It almost never is, regardless of the topic. But Paulo Scott wisely manages to mix family dilemmas, student memories, erratic loves, friendships (and enmities) that span decades, orchestrating everything in a coherent way. He drew a very up-to-date portrait of the effects of racism on a middle-class black family, without appealing to African ancestors or Candomblé rituals. The patriarch says an Our Father before meals, and this is a fine irony, without value judgment.

brown and yellow it is, from now on, a fundamental work of fiction that realistically focuses on the racial question in the XNUMXst century, in a country where full democracy no longer breathes, and racial democracy never existed. More than anything, a great novel, well written, blunt and necessary. Despite the open ending...

A great novel, admirably well written, blunt and necessary. Despite the open ending...

*Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


Brown and Yellow Paperback – August 2019 – Paulo Scott (

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