"The life of hunger", originally published in 2004, is one of the many books written by the Belgian author Amélie Nothomb. From the very first sentence, Amélie eloquently grabs the attention of all of your senses. This book is like no other.

You can perhaps call it an autobiography, or an autofiction as some french people say, but I find it extremely unfair to even try to categorize it. It’s one of those pieces of art that speak for themselves, that don’t want nor need a headline.

This "semi-autobiographical" book is a great introduction to the extensive universe of her work, of around 30 published books, among other short stories and novellas. It follows her first years of life, which are characterized by crossing borders, but not just territorial ones. Identity, health issues, culture and many other topics structure a very interesting and moving setting.

Amélie by Arnaud Meyer

The prose is unmatched, and Amélie’s candor and frankness are like a flaming ball of fire that cracks your skin open, leaving a fissure where every single word walks right in. There is no trembling in her voice. No fear or doubt. No cul de sacs on the narrative, but a very straightforward highway instead. She is poetically blunt, and her wicked humor asks for no permission.


From "The life of hunger" we learn that she was born in Brussels, but quickly became a citizen of the World due to her father’s job: a diplomat. Having such diverse environments to develop, being fed in many words and meals, her upbringing was so particular from other kids.

From Pekín to New York, Bangladesh and Maoist China, she narrates how her body and mind and everything that is born from it evolved. She gives us a pinpoint insight into the most profound and superficial aspects of her soul and senses.

A photo of my spanish version book 

The primary focus and driven theme in this book, just like in the famous Kafka story “A Hunger Artist”, is (oh what a surprise! ) hunger. Hunger, but spread out, unraveled. Hunger in all of its shapes and forms. From H to R, from the body to soul, we see and read it all.

And of course, with her being so passionate, we can also perceive the extremes and consequences of it. Intelligence, anorexia, alcohol, desserts, water, books. She is hungry for them all, and she is not hesitant to talk about it.

Amélie by Arnaud Meyer

An auto-proclaimed Übermensch but with a twist: she is and embodies a “surface", a super hunger, meaning that inside of her lays the very precept of enjoyment that is finite.  Her appetite and not appetite takes us on a trip through the first two decades of her life.

"As far back as my memories go, I have always been dying of hunger. […] I might add that my hunger should be understood in the broadest sense of the word: had it only been a hunger for food, it might not have been so serious. But is it possible only to be hungry for food? Is there a hunger of the belly that is not also a sign of a generalised hunger? By hunger, I mean that terrible lack within the whole being, the gnawing void, the aspiration not so much to a utopian plentitude as to simple reality: where there is nothing, I beg for there to be something."
Unknown author, from Pinterest.

A philosophical skeleton gives structure to her storytelling, inviting us to meditate on our own life. Also, the dichotomy of her mature writing but very precise depiction of a child’s mind makes you feel like maybe she is a child, but then you read big words and complex meditations that are definitely coming from an adult, reassuring her wit and clever voice.

There is tough, a notorious shift between childhood and adolescence. She goes from “a desire greater than desire” to “How good it felt to exist without pride or ambition. To live in hibernation”.

This contraposition is not something inconceivable for the reader, because we humans know about the thin line that separates extremes. They are also compatible with the ambience that surrounds her, like tiresome China or extravagant New York. And compatible with life itself. Absurd, rocky, exceptional.

Photo by Eddy Allart

I felt especially connected to many of the portraitures she states, which made the reading even more sentimental and nerve-racking. Being someone who has experienced the effects of living in different countries, when Amélie says "More and more I understand that it's very fine not to know where you come from" she is directly hugging one of my many insecurities and dilemmas.

Health issues and other identity crises that she incarnates are also pertinent to my own story, so it feels inspiring to read about it as well.


To finish this attempt of review, I’ll quote something very Nothombist:

"If God ate, he would eat sugar ... Is it not enough to have some very good chocolate in your mouth, not only to believe in God but also to feel that one is in his presence? God isn't chocolate, he's the encounter between chocolate and a palate capable of appreciating it. God was me in a state of pleasure or potential pleasure: therefore he was me all the time."

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