Zoé Oldenbourg was born into a family of prominent Russian scholars and scientists. Her early childhood was marked by the upheavals of the Bolshevik Revolution
and the first years of Communism. Her family managed to emigrate in 1925 to Paris, where Zoé obtained her baccalauréat diploma from the Lycée Molière. She went on to attend the Sorbonne and then studied painting at the Académie Ranson. During World War II, she supported herself by making hand-painted scarves. Although her original intention was to become an artist, Zoé was encouraged to write by her father, a journalist, and she published her first novel, Argiles et cendres (translated as The World Is Not Enough), in 1946. She wrote her first works in Russian and later almost exclusively in French. In 1948, she married Heinric Idalovici and the couple had two children. Zoé Oldenbourg was highly acclaimed for her scholarship and her deep emotional feeling for the Middle Ages that made her books so lively and readable. Her books were bestsellers and several won prestigious prizes. She also wrote an autobiography, Visages d'un autoportrait (Faces of a Self-Portrait) in 1977.