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Yann Martel | Biography

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Yann Martel was born on June 25, 1963, in Salamanca, Spain. His parents, both French Canadians, joined the Canadian Foreign Service when he was young. The family lived in Costa Rica, Mexico, and France as well as Spain and Canada. He later studied philosophy at Ontario's Trent University. Before Martel committed to writing at age 27, he considered careers in politics and anthropology. After graduation he worked as a dishwasher, a security guard, and a tree planter.

Life of Pi followed two books that had lackluster sales: The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (1993) and Self (1996). Published in September 2001, his third book propelled him to national literary acclaim—what Martel calls a "freak success." Martel wrote Life of Pi after a backpacking trip to India in 1996. He had already written a novel that failed to inspire him, and he felt aimless and depressed: "I was in need of a story. More than that, I was in need of a Story," he later wrote. The trip caused him to "[fall] in love with faith." He became mesmerized by the Hindu temples and their proximity to other places of worship, such as churches and mosques. Like Pi, Martel had a secular upbringing. As an observer he became interested in the storytelling aspects of faith. He also learned to appreciate and closely observe animals on this trip.

Like Martel's previous works, Life of Pi pushed genre boundaries and engaged issues of identity, mortality, and belonging. After winning Britain's competitive Man Booker Prize, the book was translated into some 40 languages and sold 13 million copies. In 2012 it was adapted for film by Ang Lee, the director of such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk, and Brokeback Mountain.

Martel continues to write stories and novels that portray magical events and engage ethical questions. His 2010 novel Beatrice and Virgil features animals as characters to illuminate the hope and darkness in the human condition. The High Mountains of Portugal (2016) follows the pursuit of an antique crucifix that unfolds across several decades.

Martel lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Life of Pi remains his best-known work.
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