Yann Martel

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Yann Martel
Born June 25, 1963
Salamanca, Spain
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Canadian
Alma mater Trent University
Period 1993–present
Notable works Life of Pi
Relatives Émile Martel, father

Yann Martel (born 1963) is a Spanish-born Canadian author best known for the Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi,[1][2][3][4] a #1 international bestseller published in more than 50 territories. It has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and spent more than a year on the New York Times Bestseller list.[5] It was adapted to the screen by Ang Lee.[6][7]

Martel is also the author of the novels Beatrice and Virgil[8][9][10] and Self,[11][12][13] the collection of stories The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, and a collection of letters to the prime minister of Canada, 101 Letters to a Prime Minister.[11] He lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.[14]

He has won a number of literary prizes, including the 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction[15] and the 2002 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.[16] He was also the first Canadian to represent the Washington Arts Commission.[17]

Although his first language is French, Yann Martel writes in English: "English is the language in which I best express the subtlety of life. But I must say that French is the language closest to my heart. And for this same reason, English gives me a sufficient distance to write."[18]

Early life

Martel, the son of Nicole Perron and Émile Martel, was born in Salamanca, Spain. His parents were French-speaking Quebecers.[19] His father was posted as a diplomat for the Canadian government at the time of his birth. His mother was a literary translator.[20] He was raised in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Alaska and Canada. As an adolescent he attended high school at Trinity College School, a boarding school in Port Hope, Ontario.[20][21]

As an adult, Martel has spent time in Iran, Turkey and India. After studying philosophy at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario,[22] Martel spent 13 months in India visiting mosques, churches, temples and zoos, and spent two years reading religious texts and castaway stories. He now lives in Saskatoon, Canada.[23] His first published fictional work, Seven Stories, appeared in 1993.[20]


In 2001, he published the novel Life of Pi, his fourth book, which was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2002.[1] Life of Pi was later chosen for the 2003 edition of CBC Radio's Canada Reads competition, where it was championed by author Nancy Lee.[24] In addition, its French translation, Histoire de Pi, was included in the French version of the competition, Le combat des livres, in 2004, championed by singer Louise Forestier.[25] Martel was inspired to write a story about sharing a lifeboat with a large cat after reading a review of the novella Max and the Cats by Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar. Martel received some criticism for failing to consult with Scliar [26] and by Scliar himself for the way he initially responded to the criticism.[27]

Martel was the Samuel Fischer Visiting Professor at the Institute of Comparative Literature, Freie Universität Berlin in 2002, where he created a curriculum that focused on "The Animal in Literature".[28] He then spent a year in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, from September 2003 as the public library's writer-in-residence.[29] He collaborated with Omar Daniel, composer-in-residence at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, on a piece for piano, string quartet and bass. The composition, You Are Where You Are, is based on text written by Martel, which includes parts of cellphone conversations taken from moments in an ordinary day.[30][31]

In November 2005, the University of Saskatchewan announced that Martel would be scholar-in-residence.[32]

His novel Beatrice and Virgil (2010)[8] deals with the Holocaust: its main characters are two stuffed animals (a monkey and a donkey), along with several other animals depicted in a taxidermy shop.[33] Martel describes them as simply two approaches to the same subject.

From 2007 to 2011, Martel worked on a project entitled What is Stephen Harper Reading? Every two weeks, he sent the Prime Minister of Canada one book that portrays "stillness," with an accompanying explanatory note. He posted his letters, book selections, and responses received to a website devoted to the project. A book-length account of the project was published in the fall of 2009. Martel ended the project in February 2011, after sending Harper a total of 100 books.[34] The Polish magazine Histmag cited him as the inspiration behind their giving of books to the Prime Minister Donald Tusk, however, this was a one-off with only 10 books involved, which had been donated by their publishers and selected by readers of the magazine. Tusk reacted very positively.[35]

Published works

  • Seven Stories (1993)
  • The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (1993)
  • Self (1996)
  • Life of Pi (2001)
  • We Ate the Children Last (2004)
  • Teaching Yann Martel's Life of Pi from Multiple Critical Perspectives (2007)
  • Beatrice and Virgil (2010)
  • Short story The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company in The Secret History of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle (2010)
  • 101 Letters to a Prime Minister: The Complete Letters to Stephen Harper (2012)
    • The first 55 book suggestions are available as What is Stephen Harper Reading? (2009)

Awards and accolades

Beatrice and Virgil

Life of Pi

"The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios" (short story)

Film adaptations

  • Self, to be directed by Randall Wallace, set to be released by Sony Pictures Entertainment on March 12, 2015.
  • Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee in 2012.[51] Martel makes a brief appearance as an extra, sitting on a park bench across a pond while Irrfan Khan (Pi) and Rafe Spall (playing Yann Martel) converse.[52][53][54]
  • We Ate the Children Last was adapted as an independent film.[55]
  • Manners of Dying, directed by Jeremy Peter Allen in 2004.[56]
  • The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios

Theatrical adaptations


Martel has said in a number of interviews that Dante's Divine Comedy is the single most impressive book he has ever read. In talking about his most memorable childhood book, he recalls Le Petit Chose by Alphonse Daudet. He said that he read it when he was ten years old, and it was the first time he found a book so heartbreaking that it moved him to tears.[58]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 "Life of Pi". Man Booker Prize. Retrieved 31 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Kipen, David (October 23, 2002). "Canadian wins Booker Prize / 'Life of Pi' is tale of a boy who floats across the ocean from India". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 31, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  8. 8.0 8.1 Barber, John. "Martel's post-modern Holocaust allegory fetches $3-million advance", The Globe and Mail, April 6, 2010.
  9. Woog, Adam. 'Beatrice and Virgil': Yann Martel's haunting fable of humans, animals and violence, The Seattle Times, April 17, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  10. Wyndham, Susan. Books To Watch in 2010, The Sydney Morning Herald, January 9, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
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  16. 16.0 16.1 2001-2003 Asian Pacific American Awards for Literature. Cooperative Children's Book Centre, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
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  28. Tomas Venclova Is Latest Samuel Fischer Visiting Professor at Freie Universität Berlin. Freie Universität Berlin Presse. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
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  31. ARC Ensemble: Recordings, Concert Excerpts. ARC Ensemble (Artists of The Royal Conservatory) Recordings. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
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  33. Malla, Pasha (April 9, 2010)."Fiction, or is it?". The Globe & Mail, Canada, April 9, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
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  53. Medley, Mark (November 21, 2012). Life of Pi author Yann Martel: “Overall, I think it’s a wonderful companion piece”. National Post online. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
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  55. Yann Martel Author Bio. Nashville Reads. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  56. Manners of Dying at IMDB. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  57. Beatrice and Virgil at the Facotry Theatre. Factory Theatre, April 12 - May 11, 2013. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  58. Exclusive Interview - Life of Yann Martel. Abe Books. Retrieved 2013.

External links