David Serrano Blanquer
Manresa, 1913 - Hospitalet de Llobregat, 1974. Novelist
Joaquim Amat-Piniella fought as an artillery lieutenant in the Spanish Civil War. Exiled in France as of September 1939, he was an inmate of the Argelès and Saint-Cyprien concentration camps before being obliged to enlist in the 109 CTE task force, which was sent as back-up to protect the Maginot Line in December the same year. Under the German occupation, he was taken first to a Frontstalag and, eventually, to Mauthausen in January 1941. He was then in the Ternberg and Redl-Zipf sub-camps, or external commandos, until he was liberated at Ebensee on 6 May 1945. After a brief stay in Paris, he settled in Sant Julià de Lòria (Andorra) where he typed out the 71 poems of Les llunyanies, poemes de l'exili (1940-1946) [Distances, Poems of Exile (1940–1946)] and where he was to write K.L. Reich. After his return to Barcelona in 1948, he published El casino dels senyors [The Gentlemen's Casino] (1956), Roda de solitaries [Circle of the Lonely] (1957) and La pau a casa [Peace at Home] (1959). The publisher Albertí had tried in vain to bring out K.L. Reich, his novel about the camps, despite the purging to which the author himself subjected it in order to get around the censors. Finally, the expurgated edition, presented by Carlos Barral, was published in Spanish in February 1963. Joan Sales published the Catalan version in October the same year. In 1965, the book was awarded the Fastenrath Prize of the Royal Spanish Academy for the best work published since 1963. K.L. Reich is one of the most significant contributions to European concentration camp literature.
The book was written in Sant Julià de Lòria between September 1945 and April 1946 at the same time as the 71 poems of exile were being transcribed, although the latter remained unpublished. K.L. Reich was Amat-Piniella's first contribution as a novelist after the book of biographical sketches titled Ombres al calidoscopi [Shadows in the Kaleidoscope] (1933). It is logical to assume that his intention was to publish the novel because, just after he returned to Barcelona where he was to live out his internal exile since it was impossible for him to return to his hometown of Manresa, he wrote to his friend Agustí Bartra, "These days I have finished the rewriting of the book on the camps" (2 February 1948), even though he was aware of doing it "without much hope of being able to publish it" (ibid.). By letter, Amat highlights something obvious: he would have published the 1946 version, which was corrected by hand in 1948, had circumstances permitted but, unfortunately, the Franco regime and its organs of censorship foiled any attempt to do so. In the 1950s Amat kept blue-pencilling and bowdlerising different fragments of the novel in the hope that his publisher would manage to get permission to bring it out but, as Amat recognises in writing to Joan Sales, "My friend Albertí was denied authorisation by the censors years ago when he presented an expurgated version that had been toned right down in every way" (27 June 1963). Finally, after seventeen years and after he had published several novels, his friend Carlos Barral managed to obtain publishing rights and the Spanish edition finally appeared on 25 February 1963. After that, Joan Sales declined to publish La línea recta [The Straight Line, unpublished] and suggested that he bring out K.L. Reich, an endeavour that eventually bore fruit on 15 October. This edition, the one that was known until the Edicions 62 volume was published, contains a fragment imposed by Joan Sales himself (see David Serrano, 2004: 259) and evidences a serious attempt at interference by Sales who attempted to suppress the final ontological reflections, a problem that Amat was able to rectify and avoid in time.
During this long period, Amat managed to publish some fragments of the book in the review Per Catalunya (1945) and in the titles Antologia [Anthology] (1947) and Por qué [Why] (1963). In the first two examples one finds the same tone and resources as those appearing in the Edicions 62 edition. The work is organised into eighteen chapters along the classical lines of introduction, core and denouement and includes a paratext, "Nota de l'autor" [Author's Note] justifying the goals the novel seeks to achieve, choice of genre and its purpose.
Behind this structural division one can accurately identify a still-more punctilious construction, that of the sixty sequences that comprise the novel, these being understood as minimal spatiotemporal units of meaning. Their distribution through the chapters applies the timelessness of sequential simultaneity and a parallel-style construction of the lines of action, which is one of the book's main contributions in narratological terms. This disposition means that certain sequences are frequently closed after having gone beyond the limits proper to the sequence itself and its higher-level structural reference of the chapter. Hence, one finds constants that keep being repeated over time and in different settings and characters, this redounding in the objectivist desire to bring about an inextricable interlocking of sequences and chapters, while at once attempting to maintain the structural unity of each one and adopting the objectivist tone of simultaneity of plot.
Amat's work, which preceded or was coeval with the literary projects of such writers as Primo Levi, Imre Kertész, Robert Antelme, Jorge Semprun, Hannah Arendt and Elie Wiesel, starts out with the same handicap, although for different reasons: the early difficulties that survivors had in publishing their works all around Europe but, in his case, with some additional elements, namely his association with Catalan republicanism (in the context of the fascist Franco regime after 1939) and his opting for fiction when this was an eminently repudiated option. Yet there were still more problems. To the confirmation of the need mooted by Theodor Adorno (like Giorgio Agamben and Jean Améry) of finding a new language after Auschwitz in order to explain what is incomprehensible to man – a matter of special concern to Amat – one must add that of finding its adaptation to a Catalan language with no tradition in the realist novel and the fact that, in personal terms, this was the first time that Amat had confronted the complex task of writing a novel.
Beyond coming under the heading of concentration camp literature, Amat's work should also be situated within the tradition of the novel on the human condition. Man's moral solitude, in conjunction with his responsibility, does not exclude an attempt at dialogue and an accusatory voice where the "coming of hopes" called for at the end of the "Nota de l'autor" has quite a lot to do with the concept of "cosmic and Mediterranean fraternity" of which Camus was later to speak, with the dialogue with eternity discussed by Malraux in L'Espoir, and with the union between God and Satan that Georges Bernanos proposed. Amat's Francophile background unites him with the seventeenth-century moralists (Montaigne, Jean De La Bruyère), with Stendhal (in his concern for the dignity of man) and La Rochefoucauld in his desire to analyse the different forms of human conduct so as to suggest a system by which to judge them. As for his insistence on justifying or not justifying actions, and the problem of their value within the framework of a human condition described with extreme rawness, his readings of Blaise Pascal can be identified.
With these premises, the concepts of Good and Evil shape realities understood within a set of changeable precepts in which the result is a veritable moral life in constant evolution. This fits both with the idea of the "grey zone" advanced by Primo Levi in The Drowned and the Saved and with K.L. Reich, where the main characters of the novel – as in Baroja or Hemingway – are born morally (and in the sense of their narratological construction) at the start of their fictional path, the moment they enter the camp, and it is in keeping with the constant resort to moral responsibility, with their power of acting and/or making decisions (within the limitations), that their performance takes shape, and that the denouement, both physical and moral, must be understood. Awareness of Good, in Amat, is linked, then, with the circumstance (bearing no relation to the theoretical Catholic Good), with circumstances coupled with the concept of responsibility strictly from the human and lay standpoint, which is to say from the perspective of justice.
Little attention was given to the publication of Primo Levi's If This Is a Man in 1946, the same year in which Amat was writing his book, but when it was recovered at the end of the 1950s and its conceptual and contributory significance was duly recognised, approaches made to the work would thenceforth always be in direct relation with the dates of writing and of publication because they situate Levi in the vanguard of Holocaust literature. This is not unlike Amat's situation because the vindication of his writing the novel between 1945 and 1946 makes it possible, from the standpoint of comparative literature, to situate his figure and his moral and ontological contributions at the forefront of European concentration camp literature, with ponderings on the human condition that are simultaneous with, or that even precede those of Albert Camus, Imre Kertész, Jorge Semprun, Robert Antelme, et cetera. The edition written in 1946 permits one to situate Amat as a leading figure of the realist, committed writing that was so necessary and difficult in our literature in the early forties (recall that Joaquim Molas locates historic realism in the early sixties). Such is the understanding of the canonising instances both of our own literature (academia, incorporating the edition written in 1946 into curricula and in the canon; publishing houses, including fragments of the 1946 version in textbooks; critics, celebrating its appearance and relevance; institutions, making the 1946 version obligatory reading for secondary school students; and the public for which several editions are now available, including some in paperback) and of European literature. Recently, the 1946 version of K.L. Reich has officially been incorporated into the European canon of concentration camp literature with its inclusion in Dictionnaire critique de la littérature européenne des camps de concentration et d'extermination (EU, Fundació Ars, 2007).
Copyright © David Serrano Balaguer