9 Magical Facts About 100 Years of Solitude

Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez after the announcement that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982
Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez after the announcement that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982
STEFAN WALLGREN/AFP/Getty Images

To call Gabriel García Márquez a luminary is an understatement. When he died at 87 in 2014, his native Colombia mandated three days of mourning for the literary superstar popularly known as “Gabo.” Though he wrote many great works, he remains most famous for One Hundred Years of Solitude, which chronicles one unlucky, sometimes incestuous, always memorable family in the fictional village of Macondo. Here are nine fascinating facts about one of literature’s indispensable masterworks.

1. One Hundred Years of Solitude has been a blockbuster since its release.

García Márquez finished writing One Hundred Years of Solitude in late 1966; the book was first released the following year. Since then, it has sold more than 50 million copies in 25 languages, reportedly outselling everything published in Spanish except for the Bible. "If I hadn’t written [the book], I wouldn’t have read it,” García Márquez told the Atlantic in 1973. “I don’t read best sellers.”

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude almost didn't exist.

García Márquez had published four books in Spanish before One Hundred Years of Solitude, but became so discouraged that he gave up writing altogether for more than five years. However, he couldn’t get the idea out of his head. Once he decided to try again, his wife became their family’s sole breadwinner while he threw himself into the work, without any idea where the plot would take him. “I did not stop writing for a single day for 18 straight months, until I finished the book,” he told one interviewer. The manuscript was so large and his family’s savings were so meager that he could only afford to mail one half of it to a potential publisher. By accident, he sent the second half; the publisher was so eager to read the first half, he provided money for the postage.

3. The reception for One Hundred Years of Solitude was a bit like Beatlemania.

Two days after the sometimes-psychedelic One Hundred Years of Solitude debuted, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band dropped. They each exemplified a similar zeitgeist: García Márquez rocketed to the forefront of a pan-Latin American literary movement called El Boom, which also included heavyweights such as Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa. Everyone from intellectuals to blue-collar laborers to sex workers bought and read and talked about the book. Its appeal across class lines fed into a heady period rocked by political and cultural upheaval. “It was seen as the first book to unify the Spanish-language literary culture, long divided between Spain and Latin America, city and village, colonizers and colonized,” writes Vanity Fair’s Paul Elie.

4. The man who translated One Hundred Years of Solitude deserves his own biographies.

Cuban-American literature professor Gregory Rabassa served as a cryptologist during World War II, breaking codes, visiting the White House, and dancing with Marlene Dietrich. With fluency in at least seven languages, he also interrogated high-level Axis prisoners. On a recommendation from a fellow writer, García Márquez waited a year for Rabassa to become available. When One Hundred Years of Solitude reached the Anglophone world in 1970, he was so happy with the result, he told his translator that the English version was better than his own.

5. 100 Years of Solitude led to a banana company's re-branding.

García Márquez was deeply political his whole life, and also wielded his pen against capitalism. The colonial banana company described in One Hundred Years of Solitude was so clearly modeled on the massive United Fruit corporation, which Márquez had seen ravage his hometown growing up, that the book was part of the reason the company eventually had to rebrand itself—as Chiquita.

6. García Márquez was determined that no one would ever film One Hundred Years of Solitude.

There have been other adaptations of García Márquez's work. Love in the Time of Cholera became a 2017 Hollywood film starring Javier Bardem and Benjamin Bratt. But when the producer Harvey Weinstein approached García Márquez about One Hundred Years of Solitude, there were conditions: "We must film the entire book, but only release one chapter—two minutes long—each year, for 100 years."

7. Magical realism itself was a political act for García Márquez—and for those who followed him.

Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz called magical realism a tool “that enables Caribbean people to see things clearly in their world, a surreal world where there are more dead than living, more erasure and silence than things spoken.” The British-Indian author Salman Rushdie recognized his experience in García Márquez’s Latin America. Ghanaian poet Nii Parkes said the writer “taught the West how to read a reality alternative to their own, which in turn opened the gates for other non-Western writers like myself and other writers from Africa and Asia."

8. By accident, García Márquez stumbled onto another genre: medical realism.

García Márquez had his own conception of magical realism and where it came from, but sometimes what he thought was imagination turned out to be something real. Early in One Hundred Years of Solitude, a plague of insomnia afflicts Macondo. Villagers begin forgetting the words for things and concepts; protagonist José Arcadio Buendía even meticulously labels everyday objects around town. This cognitive impairment was actually described in medical literature for the first time in 1975, eight years after the book’s initial release. It’s called semantic dementia, and García Márquez accurately describes the effects of certain kinds of degeneration in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes.

9. García Márquez didn’t think the book was all that magical.

What others call magical realism, García Márquez simply calls lived experience. He once claimed that of everything he had written, all of it he’d known, experienced, or heard before he was 8 years old. “You only have to open the newspapers to see that extraordinary things happen to us every day, ” he said in 1988. “There's not a single line in my novels which is not based on reality.”

This list was first published in 2016 and republished in 2019.

5 Facts About Shirley Jackson

Photo illustration: Shaunacy Ferro. Images: Penguin Random House
Photo illustration: Shaunacy Ferro. Images: Penguin Random House

Midcentury American writer Shirley Jackson has long been known for her spooky short story "The Lottery," which caused widespread controversy when it came out in The New Yorker in 1948 and continues to appear in short story anthologies today. Her equally haunted novels are less widely read. But ever since her 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House was turned into a hit Netflix series, her work has been experiencing a critical and popular revival more than 50 years after her death. (A well-reviewed 2017 biography as well as new releases of some of her short stories and previously unpublished writings in the last few years have no doubt helped.)

If you’re just catching on to Shirley Jackson mania, here are five things to know about the master of gothic horror.

1. Many modern writers cite her as an inspiration.

Shirley Jackson has a number of fans among modern writers. Stephen King has called The Haunting of Hill House one of the two "great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years,” and he has said he wrote The Shining with Jackson’s The Sundial in mind. Writers like Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates sing her praises, and Donna Tartt has called her stories “among the most terrifying ever written.” Sylvia Plath was a fan, too, and hoped to interview her during summer internship at Mademoiselle in 1953. It didn’t work out, but Plath would go on to write works with plenty of parallels to Jackson’s.

2. Shirley Jackson was her family's chief breadwinner.

Jackson’s husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, was a writer, too. A literary critic who taught literature at Bennington College, it was his job that brought the couple to the small Vermont city, where Jackson often chafed at being placed in the role of faculty wife. Yet it was Jackson’s work that supported the family. (Like many wives of her day, she also did all the cooking, cleaning, taking care of their four kids, and driving the family around town—as one of Hyman’s former students wrote of him, “Stanley never did anything practical if he could help it.”)

In addition to the fees she earned selling short stories and novels, Jackson had a lucrative career writing lighthearted essays on motherhood and family life for women’s magazines, which she eventually parlayed two successful memoirs.

3. Shirley Jackson claimed to be a witch.

In keeping with the haunted themes in her writing, Jackson studied the history of witchcraft and the occult, and often told people she was a witch—though that may have been in part a publicity tactic. As Ruth Franklin writes in her 2017 Jackson biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life:

"During her lifetime, she fascinated critics and readers by playing up her interest in magic: The biographical information on her first novel identifies her as ‘perhaps the only contemporary writer who is a practicing amateur witch, specializing in small-scale black magic and fortune-telling with a tarot deck.’ To interviewers, she expounded on her alleged abilities, even claiming that she used magic to break the leg of publisher Alfred A. Knopf, with whom her husband was involved in a dispute. Reviewers found those stories irresistible, extrapolating freely from her interest in witchcraft to her writing, which often takes a turn into the uncanny. ‘Miss Jackson writes not with a pen but a broomstick’ was an oft-quoted line."

It’s not clear whether she actually performed any magic rituals, but she referenced them often, usually in a tongue-in-cheek way. She often joked with her editors about bringing about victories for her favorite baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, through her magical abilities.

Her interest was definitely real, though. She started studying witchcraft while writing a paper as a student at the University of Rochester, and later took up tarot reading. Her personal library was filled with hundreds of books about witchcraft, and in 1956, she wrote a children’s book, The Witchcraft of Salem Village, about the history of the Salem witch trials.

4. Shirley Jackson considered becoming a professional cartoonist.

Jackson wasn’t just good with words. She loved to draw, and even considered becoming a professional cartoonist at one point, according to Franklin. While her favorite subjects were cats, she regularly made minimalist, humorous sketches of herself and the people around her (particularly her husband), keeping a kind of cartoon diary of her life.

“They’re Thurber-esque in style, but they’re kind of edgy, too,” her son, Laurence Jackson Hyman, told The Guardian of the drawings in 2016. “There’s one in which she is trudging up a hill carrying bags of groceries, and my father is sitting in his chair, reading. ‘Dear,’ he says, without bothering to get up. ‘You know you’re not supposed to carry heavy things when you’re pregnant!’” Some of these drawings are held with Jackson’s papers in the Library of Congress, including sketches she made of how she imagined the layout of Hill House. Her unpublished illustrated ABC book for kids, The Child's Garden of New Hampshire, is also held there.

5. Shirley Jackson died before finishing her last novel.

Jackson died unexpectedly from heart failure in 1965 at the age of 48. (At the time, newspapers listed her as 45, as she often lied about her age, perhaps to minimize the age difference between her and her husband, who was two years younger than she.)

A significant chunk of her work has been published since her death, though. When she died, she was in the midst of writing a novel, Come Along With Me, which was published in its incomplete format by her husband in 1968. In 1996, Laurence Jackson Hyman found a crate of unpublished stories by his mother, and, with his sister, Sarah Hyman Dewitt, turned them into a collection called Just an Ordinary Day. In 2015, they edited and released Let Me Tell You, a collection of stories, essays and lectures from her archive that were mostly unfinished or unpublished at the time of her death.

These Atlases Map Out the Unique Histories of New York City, New Orleans, and San Francisco

University of California Press / Amazon
University of California Press / Amazon

When thinking of a map, your mind most likely pictures a seemingly unruly network of colorful lines showing roads and city limits. But what if a map could go beyond geography and show just what makes a particular place so unique? For over 10 years, author Rebecca Solnit has compiled three unique atlases of New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans, with each one giving readers a look at these distinct cities that goes far beyond tourist attractions and subway lines. Now, for the first time, you can buy all three atlases in a set at Barnes & Noble ($68) or Amazon ($51).

In Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, Solnit, along with artists, writers, and cartographers, created 22 colored maps of the city, with each one focusing on a different aspect of its character. For example, the "Poison/Palate" map displays the dichotomy between the artisan food shops and restaurants that exist alongside the toxic mines and chemical factories found in the Bay Area. The "Green Women" map, on the other hand, celebrates the women of the city that have fought for the environment. You can find the first of the series on Amazon for $21.

The second in the series is Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, written by Solnit and co-authored by Rebecca Snedeker, a native to New Orleans and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker (Witness: Katrina). Alongside 22 maps, this atlas features more than 20 essays written by musicians, prison activists, and many other local experts. Readers can see the aftermath of the BP spill in the “Oil and Water” map, while “A City in Time” allows viewers to see how New Orleans has been settled over a period of 300 years. Find this edition for $21 on Amazon.

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the last in the series, and you can find it on Amazon for $22. Written by Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, a geographer and writer, this edition has 26 maps, highlighted by “City of Women.” At first glance, it looks like a typical subway map, but when you look closer, you’ll see the stop names have been replaced by those of women who have impacted the city in some way, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Dorothy Parker. If you buy the set, you'll receive an updated fold-out poster of this popular map, which includes more recent names like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Alongside the many women that have shaped the Big Apple, readers can see a mapped-out version of the different languages spoken throughout Queens and much more.

The set also includes two other color fold-out posters of New Orleans and San Francisco and an essay by Solnit reflecting on this project.

Once you're done looking through these unique maps, check out some of the most important ones in history.

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