Yann Martel was born in Salamanca, Spain, in 1963, of Canadian parents who were doing graduate studies. Later they both joined the Canadian foreign service and he grew up in Costa Rica, France, Spain and Mexico, in addition to Canada. He continued to travel widely as an adult, spending time in Iran, Turkey and India, but is now based mainly in Montreal. He obtained a degree in Philosophy from Trent University in Ontario, then worked variously as a tree planter, dishwasher and security guard before taking up writing full-time from the age of 27.
His first book, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, was published in 1993 and is a collection of short stories, dealing with such themes as illness, storytelling and the history of the twentieth century; music, war and the anguish of youth; how we die; and grief, loss and the reasons we are attached to material objects.
This was followed by his first novel, Self (1996), a tale of sexual identity, orientation and Orlando-like transformation. It is described by Charles Foran in the Montreal Gazette as a ' ... superb psychological acute observation on love, attraction and belonging ...'
In 2002 Yann Martel came to public attention when he won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his second novel, Life of Pi (2002), an epic survival story with an overarching religious theme. The novel tells the story of one Pi Patel, the son of an Indian family of zookeepers. They decide to emigrate to Canada and embark on a ship with their animals to cross the Pacific. They are shipwrecked and Pi is left bobbing in a lifeboat in the company of a zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Life of Pi will eventually be published in over forty countries and territories, representing well over thirty languages, and the film rights have been optioned by Fox studios.
Yann Martel is at work on another novel. It will once more feature animals - this time a monkey and a donkey - and will deal with the words, metaphors and stories we use to describe, and so live with, great evil.
In 2004, a collection of short stories was published entitled We Ate The Children Last.