Vassilis Alexakis was born in Athens in 1943 and spent his childhood on the island of Santorini. In 1961 he received a scholarship to study abroad and went to France. He enrolled in the journalism school in Lille with the intent of somehow making his living as a writer. In 1964, he returned to Greece to do his military service. Three years later, the coup d'etat and the installation of the military regime forced him into exile. He returned to France, this time to Paris.
His first novel, Le sandwich, was written in French and published in 1974. In 1982 he wrote his first novel in Greek, Talgo, and translated it himself into French. His novel La languematernelle was awarded the prestigious Medicis Prize; his collection of short stories, Papa, was awarded the Academie francaise Prize for Best Short Story Collection, and his novel Avant was awarded the Albert Camus Prize.
Foreign Words is Alexakis's first novel published in English. La langue maternelle [Mother Tongue] (1996) has been translated into Italian and German; Talgo (1983) and Pourquoi tu pleures? [Why Are You Crying?] (1991) have also appeared in German. Alexakis received the 2007 Grand Prix from the Academie francaise for his novel Ap. J.-C.