Readerz.Net / Yann Martel
Yann Martel (born 25 June 1963) is a Spanish-born Canadian author best known for the Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi, 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 Bestseller Lists of the New York Times and The Globe and Mail, among many other best-selling lists. It was adapted to the screen and directed by Ang Lee, garnering four Oscars (the most for the event) including Best Director and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
Martel is also the author of the novels The High Mountains of Portugal, Beatrice and Virgil and Self, 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. He has won a number of literary prizes, including the 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and the 2002 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.
He lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with the writer Alice Kuipers and their four children.
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."
The son of French-Canadians Nicole Perron and Émile Martel, Yann Martel was born in Salamanca, Spain, where his parents were studying at the University of Salamanca. His mother was enrolled in Hispanic Studies, while his father was working on a PhD on the Spanish writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. Soon after his birth, the family moved, first to Coimbra, Portugal; and Madrid, Spain; and then to Fairbanks, Alaska; and Victoria, British Columbia, where his father taught at the Universities of Alaska and Victoria, respectively. His parents subsequently joined the Canadian foreign service, and he was therefore raised in San José, Costa Rica, Paris, France, and Madrid, Spain, with stints in Ottawa, Ontario, in between postings. Martel completed his final two years of high school at Trinity College School, a boarding school in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, and completed an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.
As an adult, Martel worked at odd jobs – parking lot attendant in Ottawa, dishwasher in a tree-planting camp in northern Ontario, security guard at the Canadian embassy in Paris; and travelled through Mexico, South America, Iran, Turkey, and India. He started writing while he was at university, writing plays and short stories that were, by his own admission, "blighted by immaturity and dreadful", but kept at it.
Martel moved to Saskatoon, Canada, with his partner, the writer Alice Kuipers, in 2003.
Martel's work first appeared in print in 1988 in The Malahat Review with his short story Mister Ali and the Barrelmaker. The Malahat Review also published in 1990 his short story The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, for which he won the 1991 Journey Prize and which was included in the 1991–1992 Pushcart Prize Anthology. In 1992, the Malahat brought out his short story The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton, for which he won a National Magazine Award gold. The cultural magazine Border Crossings published his short story Industrial Grandeur in 1993. That same year, a bookstore in Ottawa that hosted Martel for a reading issued a handcrafted, limited edition of some of his stories, Seven Stories.
Martel credits The Canada Council for the Arts for playing a key role in fostering his career, awarding him writing grants in 1991 and 1997. In the Author's Note of his novel Life of Pi, he wrote: "I would like to express my sincere gratitude to that great institution, the Canada Council for the Arts, without whose grant I could not have brought together [Life of Pi]…. If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams."
In 1993, Knopf Canada published a collection of four of Martel's short stories: The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, the eponymous story, as well as The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto..., Manners of Dying, and The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company. On first publication, the collection appeared in Canada, Quebec, the UK, France, Netherlands, Italy, and Germany.
Martel's first novel, Self, appeared in 1996. It was published in Canada, Quebec, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Martel's second novel Life of Pi, was published on September 11, 2001, and was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2002, among other prizes, and became a bestseller in many countries, including spending 61 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller List. Martel had been in New York the previous day, leaving on the evening of the 10th for Toronto to make the publication of his novel the next morning. He was inspired in part to write a story about sharing a lifeboat with a wild animal after reading a review of the novella Max and the Cats by Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar in The New York Times Book Review. Martel initially received some criticism from Brazilian press for failing to consult with Scliar. Martel pointed out that he could not have stolen from a work he had not at the time read, and he willingly acknowledged being influenced by the New York Times review of Scliar's work and thanked him in the Author's Note of Life of Pi. 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. 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.
Martel was the Samuel Fischer Visiting Professor at the Institute of Comparative Literature, Freie Universität Berlin in 2002, where he taught a course titled "The Animal in Literature". He then spent a year in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, from September 2003 as the Saskatoon Public Library's writer-in-residence. 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.
From 2005 to 2007, Martel was Visiting Scholar at the University of Saskatchewan.
Beatrice and Virgil, his third novel, came out in 2010. The work is an allegorical take on the Holocaust, attempting to approach this period not through the lens of historical witness, but through imaginative synthesis. The main characters in the story are a writer, a taxidermist, and two stuffed animals: a red howler monkey and a donkey.
From 2007 to 2011, Martel ran a guerrilla book club with the then Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, sending the Prime Minister a book every two weeks for four years, a total of more than a hundred novels, plays, poetry collections, graphic novels and children's books. Each gift was accompanied by a letter explaining the worth of the book. The point was to make clear to Stephen Harper that reading literature is not only a pleasure, but an essential way of knowing the world and understanding life. For all his efforts, Martel received not a single reply from the Prime Minister. The letters were published as a book in 2012, 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. 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.
Martel was invited to be a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2014. He sat on the Board of Governors of the Saskatoon Public Library from 2010 to 2015.
His fourth novel, The High Mountains of Portugal, was published on February 2, 2016. It tells of three characters in Portugal in three different time periods, who cope with love and loss each in their own way. It made The New York Times Bestseller list within the first month of its release.
Awards and accolades
The High Mountains of Portugal
Beatrice and Virgil
Life of Pi
'The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios' (short story)
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.