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.
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