Kessel was born in Villa Clara, Entre Ríos, Argentina, because of the constant journeys of his father, a Litvakdoctor. Joseph Kessel lived the first years of his childhood in Orenburg, Russia, before the family moved to France in 1908. He studied in Nice and Paris, and took part in the First World War as an aviator. He was also an aviator during the Second World War, assigned to the Free French Bomb. Squadron "Lorraine" known as No.342 Squadron in the Royal Air Force with Romain Gary who was also a talented French novelist.