No one can escape from the sanatorium, while a superior power injects everyone with the virus of inactivity and acceptance of the problems that devastate the State. The silent, led by a group of non-conformist thinkers, decide to fight against the manipulated masses that embody the homogenization of ideas. That is, a mass of people afraid to rebel and all too willing to accuse the dissenting voices. The Sanatorium is an allegory of a sick civilization, devastated and fearful of the powers that only serve to accuse the other. It is a unique work in the tradition of the novels of ideas that reveal and intensify reality. Fiction made up of ideas and anger and in defense of the republic of letters, where we can hear the voices of Robert Walser, Marguerite Duras, Thomas Bernhard and Gustave Flaubert, among others.


“The art of lying is a global phenomenon”

Nuria Amat’s new novel El Sanatorio is a harsh critique of Catalan nationalism and populism



Nuria Amat appears on the cover of her book El Sanatorio (ED Libros) looking straight at the reader, standing in front of Caspar David Friedrich’s famous romantic landscape. The image sums up the contents of the novel, which is a harsh critique of nationalism and populism that is sometimes hard to digest. Amat argues that her reading could apply to any society, although she draws explicit parallels with the pro-independence movement in Catalonia. El Sanatorio enters into dialogue with two groups at the same time: repressed intellectuals who live in the present and universal European writers such as Thomas Bernhard, Robert Walser, Marguerite Duras.


I knew that populism would triumph. I wanted to be critical; this is a book of resistance. I’m fed up of the lies that today’s politicians tell. The art of lying is a global phenomenon. It reflects the situation that certain politicians have got us into because of interests that have little to do with reason. Now it’s emotion that calls the shots—these interests are all about feelings. Left-wing and right-wing populism are the same, they use the same strategies, the same demagoguery. I’m sorry because I don’t want this to turn into a political interview. Of course the novel touches on politics, but it is a social book.

But the book is very political.

Yes, I can’t deny that. What are the populist parties that we are being subjected to actually doing? Podemos, for example, in Catalonia or Madrid. All forms of populism are nationalistic. I wrote that in El Sanatorio two years ago, and it turned out to be a premonition. The populisms that we are having to put up with here in Spain, in the United States, in the United Kingdom, and in France, where they also have Islamism to deal with, is just another way of deceiving people, of dividing them up into good and bad. It’s a tragedy; this is how wars start. The situation that I’m experiencing makes me very uncomfortable. It’s true that I was involved in the first Catalan Assembly; I fought Franco’s government, and I was one of the first to give classes in Catalan, at the School for Librarians. I’m not saying that makes me special, I just want you to see where I’m coming from.

Are you mentioning it because you sense that in Catalonia you’re seen as a traitor, as your alter ego in El Sanatorio says?

Populism divides people into good and bad; “these ones are traitors; these ones are the Inquisition.” I was writing another book, but this issue got in the way of it, because it was what I was experiencing every day. It’s this atmosphere, the sanatorium effect, a group of people that I call “the silenced” who have to get together in secret if they want to talk.

The book is full of suicides. Stefan Zweig appears at the end as an example of a world that is coming to an end. Is that what’s happening today?

Exactly, it’s a world that is disappearing, the world of culture. When you put stars on people’s clothing or marks on books. Or when you say “this is good or bad, don’t talk to him, don’t give prizes to her.” I’m a persona non grata in my little country. The most important thing about this book is that it makes a stand for the culture that my life revolves around. How is it possible for our countries to be experiencing form of populism that drives out thought or reflection or books that contain truths? I’m talking about the situation in Catalonia, but it’s a global phenomenon. What happened in the United States was exactly the same as what happened in Catalonia: all the cities voted for Clinton, the democrat, while all the suburbs and rural areas voted for the antidemocrat.

Bernhard’s conflict with conservative Austrian society might be easier to digest in today’s Catalonia. But the parallels you draw between the pro-independence process and the propaganda of Goebbels or Lenin are harder to swallow. Do you agree?

Populism can be adapted to Nazi or Stalinist propaganda. I’m not comparing Catalan nationalists to those ideas, but I’m saying that all populist manipulation follows the same logic. It’s the people who are behind the propaganda who are to blame, both here and in the United States. Each on their own scale. I’m not saying that Catalonia is Nazi. I’m very sensitive to language and I’m quick to notice lies. The language that is used in populist systems is the language of psychological violence, not of physical violence. It’s a perverse form of violence. How is it possible that such a small percentage of people were pro-independence here or in the United Kingdom and yet in three years those figures have quadrupled? It’s because the victims of this perverse violence react the way women do to domestic abuse. Psychological abuse is as bad or worse than physical abuse because it lasts longer; it makes the victim dependent. It is based on a love-hate relationship. “I abuse you because I make you believe that I’m right when I say I am Luther King,” because Artur Mas has actually compared himself with Luther King. Or think about some of the things that Trump or Nigel Farage have said. Women who are victims of psychological abuse deny that they are being abused, because it’s like a drug.

There are friends of yours who appear in the book under different names. The writer and publisher Annuska is Anna María Moix. Why is Moix important in El Sanatorio?

Because we talked a lot about this issue, about nationalism. We talked a lot about everything I discuss in the book, not in exactly the same way, of course, because this is fiction. Moix inspires me a lot and she’s never gained the recognition she deserves because she is another victim of a dying culture, Catalan culture written in Castilian Spanish. Being a woman also played a part. In Spain, even today, female writers who think for themselves are ignored. I have written a will which says that I don’t want them to honor me or anything like that in Catalonia once I’m dead, I don’t want any posthumous tributes, because I want it to happen while I’m still alive.

But you are a very well-known figure.

No, not really. I’m just someone who publishes books, and I know how hard I find it to do even that. I don’t have a newspaper column, not even once a month. Look at the press in Spain, all the writers are men, and they’re all the same.