Nothomb claims to have been born in Japan, she actually began living in Japan at the age of two until she was five years old. Subsequently, she lived in China, New York, Bangladesh, Burma, the United Kingdom (Coventry) and Laos.
She is from a distinguished Belgian political family; she is notably the grand-niece of Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb, a Belgian foreign minister (1980-1981). Her first novel, Hygiène de l’assassin, was published in 1992. Since then, she has published approximately one novel per year including Les Catilinaires (1995 – The Stranger Next Door), Stupeur Et Tremblements (1999 – Fear and Trembling) and Métaphysique des tubes (2000 – The Character of Rain).
She has been awarded numerous prizes, including the 1993 Prix Jacques-Chardonne, the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française 1999, the Grand prix Jean Giono (2008), and since 2015 is a member of the Belgium Royal Academy of French language and literature.
While in Japan, she attended a local school and learned Japanese. When she was five the family moved to China. « Quitter le Japon fut pour moi un arrachement » (« Leaving Japan was a wrenching separation for me ») she writes in Fear and Trembling. Nothomb moved often, and did not live in Europe until she was 17, when she moved to Brussels. There, she reportedly felt as much a stranger as everywhere else. She studied philology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. After some family tensions, she returned to Japan to work in a big Japanese company in Tokyo. Her experience of this time is told in Fear and Trembling. She wrote a romanticized biography (The Book of Proper Names) of French female singer Robert in 2002 and during the period 2000–2002 wrote the lyrics for nine tracks of the same artist.
A documentary — Amélie Nothomb: une vie entre deux eaux (A life between two waters) — co-written and directed by Laureline Amanieux and Luca Chiari about Amélie’s return to Japan and rediscovery of the beauty of the landscapes, the peaceful rites, the sadness of Fukushima, but especially, the meeting with her Japanese nursemaid, Nishio San, was made in 2012.
By a Royal Decree of 8 July 2015, Nothomb was ennobled as a non-hereditary baroness.
Photo credit Production Iconoclast Image © Jean-Baptiste Mondino