Yann Martel was born on June 25, 1963, in Salamanca, Spain, to Emile and Nicole Martel, but spent his childhood living in a variety of different countries, including Costa Rica, France, India, Iran, Mexico, Turkey, Canada, and the United States. His parents, civil servants, were of French-Canadian descent, and their family eventually settled in Montreal.
Martel attended Trent University from 1981 to 1984, but graduated from Concordia University with a BA in philosophy in 1985. After graduating, along with writing and considering a career in politics or anthropology, he worked many different odd jobs—librarian, tree planter, dishwasher, security guard, and parking lot attendant. At the age of 27, he committed himself to writing.
Martel published his first work, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and Other Stories, a collection of four short stories, in 1993. It received warm critical reception, although it did not sell well. His first novel, Self, was published three years later, to more mixed reviews, and to similarly small sales. It is a fictional autobiography of the first thirty years of the narrator’s life and involves two spontaneous gender changes.
After these two disappointments, Martel traveled to India to work on a third novel and figure out where his life was headed. He quickly realized the novel he was working on was going nowhere - but then he remembered something he had read about years before, and the idea for Life of Pi came to him.
Life of Pi was published in 2001 to warm, although somewhat mixed, critical reception, and, along with winning the Man Booker Prize, became an international best-seller. Many critics praised the book’s ability to suspend disbelief even as it tells an amazingly fantastical tale. Those that had problems with the book most often referred to what they saw as Martel’s heavy-handedness with the issue of belief in God, which they considered to underestimate both literature and religion. Other critics, however, praised Martel’s handling of the potentially controversial religious material.
At the height of the book’s popularity, there was a short-lived scandal involving an accusation of plagiarism. Martel has acknowledged that he thought of the premise after reading a review of the English translation of Moacyr Scliar’s Max and the Cats; the Brazilian press accused Martel of cribbing that book. The similarities between the books, however, are few, and nothing came of the charges.
Martel is currently based in Montreal, although he frequently lives internationally. In 2002 and 2003, Martel worked as a professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the Free University of Berlin, Germany.
Yann Martel was born on June 25, 1963, in Salamanca, Spain. Because his father was a professor and a diplomat, his family moved frequently during his childhood. Shortly after his birth, they moved to Portugal and over the next several years lived in such places as Alaska, Costa Rica France Mexico and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. Martel received a degree in philosophy from Trent University in Ontario in 1981, and he subsequently traveled widely on his own, living in India Iran, and Turkey. He worked odd jobs to survive and fund his travels. During his journeys, Martel wrote a collection of short stories, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, which was published in 1993 and won the Journey Prize. The publication of Self, Martel’s first novel, followed in 1996, and it was shortlisted for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Martel performed much of the research that would lead to the writing of Life of Pi in India, where he spent thirteen months visiting mosques, temples, churches, and zoos. Following that, he spent one year reading various background texts for his novel before taking two years to write Life of Pi.
Life of Pi was published in 2001 in Canada, then in 2002 in the United Kingdom and United States while Martel was living in Montreal. Life of Pi was Martel's breakthrough novel and went on to receive numerous awards, including Canada’s Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction in 2001 and the 2002 Man Booker Prize. Life of Pi was a U.K. bestseller from October 2002 through much of 2003 and was a U.S. bestseller for most of 2003. The paperback version experienced continued strong sales in 2004. Overall, the novel has sold over three million copies.
The early success of the novel led Martel to accept an engagement to teach a course at Berlin’s Free University before embarking on a worldwide book tour. Following the tour, Martel served as the writer in residence at the public library in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in the first half of 2004. He is currently working on a new novel that examines evil as it was expressed during the Holocaust with the novel’s two major characters being a monkey and a donkey.