Arslan was born in Padua. After graduating in archaeology she became a professor of modern and contemporary Italian literature at the University of Padua and published copious studies, inter alia, on Italian popular fiction and Italian women writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her primary concern as a literary critic is the Italian literary canonn.
Her most recent publications have focused on her Armenian heritage. She translated two volumes of Daniel Varujan’s poetry into Italian and edited works on the Armenian genocide and on the experiences of Armenian refugees in Italy.
Her first novel, La masseria delle allodole, was published in 2004 by Rizzoli, and it appeared in English in 2007 as The Lark Farm, translated by Geoffrey Brock and published by Knopf. Drawing on the history of her own recent ancestors it tells of the attempts of the members of an Armenian family caught up in the Armenian Genocide to escape to Italy and join a relation who had been living there for forty years. It was, among other awards, the winner of that year’s Premio Berto, Premio Fregene, Premio Stresa di Narrativa, Premio Fenice-Europa. It was selected as a finalist for the 2004 (and won) the Premio Campiello award. After winning the Il Campiello Secondo Noi by a spectacular margin - the book received nearly 50% of all votes, outstripping the second place book by 26 votes - Antonia Arslan's La masseria delle allodole was expected easily to win the Premio Super-Campiello. After a stunning series of unexplained events and possibly political calculations, it scandalously came in second place for that award. It lost by two votes, or one, if one considers that a difference of one vote would have triggered a recasting of the votes. The following year, the La masseria delle allodole was awarded the Premio P.E.N. and the Premio Manzoni. It was selected as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The book has been translated into numerous languages and inspired the Taviani brothers’ 2007 film La Masseria Delle Allodole.
Arslan's more recent publications include Ishtar2: cronache dal mio risveglio (2009) published by Rizzoli, and chronicles her brush with death in 2009, Il cortile dei girasoli parlanti published by Piemme Edizioni in 2011, and Il libro di Mush published by Skira in 2012. The latter book is an account of the Msho Charantir, the largest surviving Armenian manuscript. It won the prestigious Premio Giuria Viareggio.
- Dame, droga e galline. Il romanzo popolare italiano fra Ottocento e Novecento. Cleup, 1977.
- Dame, galline e regine. La scrittura femminile italiana fra '800 e '900. Guerini e Associati, 1999.
- La masseria delle allodole. Rizzoli, 2004 (deutsch Das Haus der Lerchen)
- La strada di Smirne. Rizzoli, 2009.
- Il cortile dei girasoli parlanti, Piemme, 2011. ISBN 9788856619737
- Il libro di Mush, Skira narrativa, 2012. ISBN 9788857211510
- Il calendario dell'avvento, Piemme, 2013. ISBN 9788856631098
- Il rumore delle perle di legno, Rizzoli, 2015. ISBN 9788858679050
- Official site (Italian)