Early life and education
During her childhood, with her three brothers and sisters, she moved from city to city, depending on the assignments her sub-prefect father received.
In 1976 she received her master's degree in Philosophy from the Sorbonne, Paris, and in 1978 went on to complete a MA in philosophy and aesthetics at Université de Paris X - Nanterre, where she completed a doctorate in philosophy in 1981. During those years she studied with a teacher she admires, Emmanuel Levinas, and her work focussed on the notion of asceticism in Christian mysticism.
While employed by the Ministry of Culture in Paris, where she remained between 1981 and 1986, she produced her first novel, Le Livre des Nuits in 1985. It won six French Literary Prizes as well as the Scott Moncrieff Translations Prize in English. The reception of the book established her as a significant new author.
From Paris she moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia, where, from 1987 to 1993, she taught philosophy at the French School, and continued to write. In 1989, she published Jours de Colère, (Days of Anger), which won the Prix Femina.
In 1993, Sylvie Germain returned to France. She then lived between Paris and La Rochelle. But Prague continued to inspire her, a theme especially apparent in the novel Immensités, as well as the cultural life of Czech Republic more generally, as reflected in her meditation on the life and work of Bohuslav Reynek. Since 1994 she has been involved only in literary activities.
In 1999, Sylvie Germain produced a biography focusing on the life of Etty Hillesum, the young Dutch Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz in November 1943, leaving behind a journal. Germain explored her spiritual life and, a year later, she published several books in various genres: a travelogue, a spiritual text and a photo album. In 2002 she published a new novel, La Chanson des Mal-Aimants, translated in English as The Song of False Lovers.
Her 2005 novel Magnus was awarded the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens (a prize voted on by French high school students). Her most recent novel, L'inaperçu, was published by Albin Michel in August 2008.
In addition to novels, she has published essays on other artists (Vermeer: Patience et songe de lumière, 1993, for example), spiritual meditations (Les Echos du Silence) and a children's book (L'Encre du Poulpe). Most of her novels have been translated into English.
- Le Livre des Nuits (Gallimard, 1984)
- Nuit d'Ambre (Gallimard, 1986)
- Opéra muet (Maren Sell, 1989)
- Jours de colère (Gallimard, 1989), prix Fémina 1989
- Days of anger, Dedalus, 1993, ISBN 9781873982655
- La Pleurante des rues de Prague (Gallimard, 1991)
- The weeping woman on the streets of Prague, Dedalus, 1993, ISBN 978-1-873982-70-9
- L'Enfant Méduse (Gallimard, 1992)
- The medusa child, Translators Liz Nash, Dedalus, 1994, ISBN 978-1-873982-31-0
- Vermeer- Patience et songe de lumière (Flohic, 1993)
- Immensités (Gallimard, 1993)
- Infinite possibilities, Translator Liz Nash, Dedalus, 1998, ISBN 978-1-873982-23-5
- Éclats de sel (Gallimard, 1996)
- Invitation to a journey: éclats de sel, Dedalus, 2003, ISBN 978-1-903517-16-1
- Les Échos du silence (Desclée de Brouwer,1996)
- Céphalophores (Gallimard, 1997)
- Tobie des marais (Gallimard, 1998)
- The book of Tobias, Translator Christine Donougher, Dedalus, 2000, ISBN 978-1-873982-39-6
- Bohuslav Reynek à Petrkov (Christian Pirot, 1998)
- L'Encre du poulpe (Gallimard Jeunesse, 1999)
- Etty Hillesum (Pygmalion Gérard Watelet, 1999)
- Cracovie à vol d'oiseaux (du Rocher, 2000)
- Mourir un peu (Desclée de Brouwer, 2000)
- Grande nuit de Toussaint (Le temps qu'il fait, 2000)
- Célébration de la Paternité (Albin Michel, 2001)
- Le vent ne peut être mis en cage (Alice, 2002)
- Chanson des mal-aimants (Gallimard, 2002)
- The song of false lovers, Dedalus, 2004, ISBN 978-1-903517-25-3
- Couleurs de l’invisible (Al Manar, 2002)
- Songes du temps (Desclée de Brouwer, 2003)
- Les personnages (Gallimard, 2004)
- Ateliers de lumière (Desclée de Brouwer, 2004)
- Magnus, Albin Michel, 2005, ISBN 978-2-226-16734-7 Prix Goncourt des Lycéens 2005.
- Magnus, Translator Christine Donougher, Dedalus, 2008, ISBN 978-1-903517-62-8
- Frères (Huitième Jour, 2006)
- L'Inaperçu (Albin Michel, 2008)
- Hidden Lives, Dedalus Limited, 2010, ISBN 978-1-903517-92-5
- Hors-champ (Albin Michel, 2009)
- Critical bibliography (Auteurs.contemporain.info)
- Shaun Whiteside (7 March 2008). "Magnus, by Sylvie Germain, trans Christine Donougher". The Independent.