Forget Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace which took me more than a fortnight to read and finish, the world’s longest novel is arguably Zettels Traum, a million-word tome written in German by author and translator Arno Schmidt. This big book was completed in 1970 after seven years of patient authorship and covers the lives of Daniel Pagenstecher, visiting translators Paul Jacobi and his wife Wilma, and their teenage daughter Franziska. By comparison, your favourite author’s longest novel, The Blackman’s Testament is a mere 335,000 words, and only 820 pages!
Zettels Traum is semi-autobiographical
The novel is semi-autobiographical and concerns the problems the author must have faced when translating American author Edgar Allan Poe from English to German. It is set in the Lüneberg Heath of northeastern Lower Saxony in northern Germany in 1968 and was inspired by Finnegan’s Wake, a novel by James Joyce.
How long is the novel?
Like aforementioned, the novel contains more than 1,000,000 German words published in folio format covering an amazing length of 1334 pages. Compare this amazing length with Tolstoy’s War and Peace’s 560,000 words or Victor Hugo’s gigantic Les Miserables which manages about 513,000 words in French. Left out are cyclical novels that were written for different periods of time and in separate volumes such as Marcel Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu which covers seven volumes and more than 1,500,000 words, Jules Romains’ Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté in 27 volumes and more than 2,000,000 words and Artamene, a 10 book novel written by Madeleine and Georges de Scudéry.
About the author Arno Schmidt
Arno Schmidt was a German author and translator born in January 1914 in Hamburg. He was the son of a police constable best known for his attempt to translate the popular Edgar Allan Poe into German. Zettels Traum is his best known fictional work, written in the once popular stream of consciousness whose proponents included James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and the Brontes among other authors of the time. He died on the 3rd of June 1979.