Nota: Eugenia Scarzanella, Abril: Un editor italiano en Buenos Aires, de Perón a Videla
Autor de la nota: James Scorer
Medio: Journal of Latin American Studies
Fecha: 03/04/2018
Libro: ABRIL
Autor del libro: Eugenia Scarzanella

Eugenia Scarzanella’s study of Abril is a rich and detailed account of one of Argentina’s most famous publishing houses. Between its foundation by Italian exile Cesare Civita in the early 1940s and the military dictatorship that came to power in 1976, Abril employed some of the country’s leading journalists, photographers, comic writers and artists, and it published many of the most influential magazines of the period, including Misterix, Claudia, Panorama and Siete Días, among others.
The book is, in the main, structured historically: the first two chapters deal principally with the exile from Europe of the publishing house’s founding members in the late 1930s and Abril’s activities just before and then during the first Peronist administration (1946–55). Chapter 3 is focused on Claudia, the fashion and cultural magazine that was an early example of a publication that targeted women and which ran between the late 1950s and the early 1970s. Chapter 4 analyses the news publications of the same period: Panorama, Siete días ilustrados and Semana gráfica. Chapter 5 analyses Abril’s move into the international market, particularly in Brazil. And the final chapter looks at the impact of the political tensions of the 1970s on the publishing house and Civita’s eventual decision to sell the company in 1977.
Scarzanella’s handling of this complex period in Argentine history will be clear to those already familiar with its broad narrative. Other readers may find it slightly harder to follow the political wrangling that shaped the period she covers, not least as the chapters that are organised around specific publications rather than periods occasionally go over the same ground. At the same time, a little more discussion of the wider context of the Argentine publishing industry and the manner in which Abril’s history and publications compare to those of other publishing houses active during the same period would have helped locate and determine the particularities of her case study.
One of the book’s principal and most forceful arguments is that the success of Abril rested on friendships and personal associations, ones that shaped a transnational network of social and intellectual capital. Targeting different consumer groups via a range of simultaneous publications (p. 110), Abril utilised the vibrant exchange of ideas, money and political influence created by that network to ensure that it not only survived but also thrived during an extremely turbulent period in Argentine history. Scarzanella further argues both that Abril offered a space of encounter for Italian and Jewish exiles – the latter wielding what is referred to at one point in the book as ‘capital étnico’ (p. 57) – and also that it functioned as a kind of ‘safe house’ from political persecution. Scarzanella’s argument is reinforced by the fact that, whilst Abril was initially a place where all new employees came from an ‘ethnic, family or friendship network’ (p. 85), with its success came a process of expansion that dismantled the familial as the foundation for the functioning of the publishing house.
Scarzanella’s suggestion that Abril was a haven for those on the left who were being persecuted by both Peronists (it is not entirely clear whether it is Scarzanella’s or Civita’s view that Peronism was ‘a new and more insidious form of fascism’ (p. 54) and, latterly, the extreme right (p. 251) is generally convincing. That said, such a view does not always sit so comfortably with some of the less idealistic and more pragmatic decisions taken by the publishing house to ensure its survival and to which she also refers. Scarzanella suggests, for example, that it was ‘necessary’ to make payments and gifts to those in power so that Abril could ‘carry on working in peace’ (pp. 180–1). Likewise, when discussing Abril’s expansion into Brazil, she notes that the company had to make compromises and deals to the extent that there ‘Claudia, to avoid closure, introduced self-censorship’ (p. 194). Such decisions may indeed have been necessary for survival during this period but, taken collectively, they would not come without a price.
Scarzanella might, in that sense, have explored in greater depth than she does Civita’s removal, at the behest of the government, of Tomás Eloy Martínez as the editor of Panorama in 1972 following an editorial questioning the official account of the Trelew massacre. Such decisions cannot simply be passed off as having been inevitable. Indeed, the book includes few critical takes on the publishing house: Hugo Pratt’s disgruntlement at having to pay for the luxury hotel room where Abril had nominally put him up after his arrival from Italy (p. 87), and Armand Mattelart’s description of Civita’s expansion into Mexico as an act of the ‘creole bourgeoisie’ (p. 198), are two exceptions.
Nevertheless, the book’s coverage of Abril’s history is impressive and it includes some intriguing and underexplored dimensions related to the publishing industry during this period. One of the most interesting threads in the book, for example, is that related to tensions over the distribution of and access to paper. State control
of paper, as Scarzanella shows via her discussion of Abril’s attempts to have its own paper mill, was, alongside direct censorship and the regulation of bank loans, an effective means of limiting the freedom of the press (pp. 214ff.). Likewise, Scarzanella’s use of Italian sources and archives gives the book a useful angle for analysing a company like Abril that was transnational from the outset. Those elements, in conjunction with the broader history that it sets out, ensure that the book is both an engaging and valuable piece of scholarship.