Amélie Nothomb was born in Kobe, Japan to Belgian diplomats. She lived there until she was five years old, and then subsequently lived in China, New York, Bangladesh, Burma, a stint in Coventry and Laos. She is from a distinguished Belgian political family; she is notably the grandniece of Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb, a Belgian foreign minister (1980-1981) and great granddaughter of writer and politician Pierre Nothomb.
Nothomb's first novel, Hygiène de l'assassin, was published in 1992. Since then, she has published approximately one novel per year, including Les Catilinaires (1995), Fear and Trembling (1999) and Métaphysique des tubes (published in English as The Character of Rain) (2000). She has been awarded numerous prizes, including the 1999 Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française; the Prix René-Fallet; and the 1993 Prix Alain-Fournier.
While in Japan, Nothomb 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 Japanese company in Tokyo. Her experience of this time is told in Fear and Trembling. She has written a romanticized biography (The Book of Proper Names) for the French female singer Robert in 2002 and during the period 2000-2002 she wrote the lyrics for nine tracks of the same artist. Many ideas inserted in her books come from the conversations she had with an Italian man, from late eighties and during the nineties. She used the French Minitel, while he used the Italian Videotel system, connected with the French one. They never met in person.