June 25, 1963
Salamanca, Salamanca, ES
Some writers manage to create a work so resonant that, for better or worse, it eclipses all their other efforts, and Yann Martel is one such scribe, thanks to the success of his acclaimed fable-like novel Life of Pi (2001). A Canadian with a globe-hopping background and roots in Quebec, Martel wrote short stories and a novel that all received little notice outside of his homeland. Drawing on time spent abroad in India, he subsequently crafted Life of Pi, the tale of an Indian teen who winds up adrift at sea on a lifeboat with a fierce tiger as his unlikely companion. The book went on to win numerous awards and warranted many editions, but it also left Martel unable to follow it up with a full novel until nearly a decade later, with Beatrice and Virgil (2010), another animal-centric story, though one that did not win over nearly as many admirers. In 2012, the film adaptation of Life of Pi surfaced after years in development, with director Ang Lee imaginatively bringing the tale to the big screen, resulting in numerous Academy Awards and an even larger audience for Martel's remarkable novel.
Born in Spain to a Canadian diplomat family, Martel spent time in various countries as a youth and was raised speaking both French and English. After boarding school and college in Ontario, he continued to travel widely and made his debut as a writer during the 1990s, with his short-story collection The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (1993) leading to minimal attention. Martel's first novel, Self (1996), detailed the life of a male protagonist who inexplicably transforms into a woman, and didn't find many fans, including the author, who later distanced himself from the book. With spirituality and animals prominently on his mind, Martel wrote Life of Pi, a story about a religiously restless Indian teenager named Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel who survives a shipwreck along with a handful of zoo animals, most notably a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, and must survive in a small lifeboat. The semi-fantastical yarn eventually found an international audience, won multiple prestigious awards, and became a perennial bestseller.
With Martel's profile considerably raised, he was able to enjoy the success of Life of Pi for a number of years. A Canadian film adaptation of one of his short stories, "Manners of Dying," was released in 2004. Naturally, a movie version of Life of Pi went into development, with various major filmmakers circling the project, including Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who was poised to direct when the production fell apart. In the meantime, Martel launched a project where he recommended books to Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, while working on his follow-up novel, Beatrice and Virgil, a story involving the Holocaust and a stuffed donkey and monkey, which ultimately had a muted reception. A television movie of his high-concept story "We Ate the Children Last" aired in Canada during 2011, by which point the Life of Pi movie was finally underway. Under the bold guidance of Ang Lee, the film moved forward, and Lee's visionary approach to the tale led to a visually lavish 3D production that exceeded expectations and even won a Best Director Oscar, among other Academy Awards. This allowed Martel to soak up yet another round of appreciation for his signature novel more than a decade after its initial publication.