Yann Martel

Reporter, Radio-Canada

Yann Martel

Yann Martel
Reporter, Radio-Canada

Yann Martel achieved worldwide acclaim with the publication of his novel Life of Pi, which won the 2002 Man Booker Prize. It was published in 44 countries, and became an international bestseller, with over 7 million copies sold. The director Ang Lee adapted the novel to the silver screen in 2012 and it has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards.

Yann Martel was born in Salamanca, Spain, in 1963. He grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Victoria, British Columbia. Then, when his parents joined the Canadian foreign service, Martel found himself living in Costa Rica, Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City. He continued to travel as an adult, spending time in Turkey, Iran, India, Europe, and South America. He studied philosophy at Trent University, in Ontario, and worked at odd jobs—tree–planter, dishwasher, security guard–before turning to writing. His collection of short stories, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, was published to critical acclaim in 1993 and came out in eight countries. His first novel, Self, was published in 1996 in five countries. In preparation for writing Life of Pi, Martel spent a year in India visiting places of worship and zoos. For Beatrice and Virgil, he visited Yad Vashem in Israel and made three trips to Auschwitz, in addition to reading over 80 books about the Holocaust.

His most recent novel, Beatrice and Virgil (April 2010), uses the power of allegory to address the Holocaust. USA Today called it "dark but divine···this novel just might be a masterpiece about the Holocaust leaving the reader startled, astonished, and moved." As in Life of Pi, Martel’s cast of characters includes animals, as well as a writer and an elderly taxidermist. In this extraordinary feat of storytelling, he explores the unexplainable, and the limitations of language in understanding who we are and what we are capable of doing. "Art is unmatched in bearing witness," Martel maintains. "Art is the ultimate suitcase, conveying the essential."

Martel moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in September 2003, where he lives with his partner, the writer Alice Kuipers, and their children. Martel is a visiting scholar at the University of Saskatchewan.  In April 2007, he embarked on a working project entitled What Is Stephen Harper Reading? in which he sent the prime minister of Canada, a book every two weeks exploring "stillness" and the importance of literary culture, with an accompanying explanatory letter. He posted his letters, book selections, and any responses to a website devoted to the project. A collection of the first 55 letters to Prime Minister Harper, What is Stephen Harper Reading: Yann Martel’s Recommended Reading for a Prime Minister and Book Lovers of All Stripes, was published in 2009 and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister: The Complete Letters to Stephen Harper was published in fall 2012.