Yann Martel: Biography, Books & Quotes

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

This lesson details the life of noted author Yann Martel, and his work, particularly his award-winning novel, Life of Pi, which has been made into a feature film. Read the lesson and take the quiz!

Do You Believe That?

Have you ever heard a story so crazy you cannot believe it? We have all heard the news stories of people performing superhuman feats out of a need to survive or to save themselves or someone they love. A wife comes home, and finds her husband trapped under a car. She lifts the car off of him to save his life, but she can barely lift a bag of groceries. A father races to push his child out of the way of a speeding car, and rolls with them into a ditch, but is slow and overweight. Sisters swim for hours in shark infested waters through a storm in the ocean, and they survive with no lasting injuries. This is the same idea behind Life of Pi, a novel about a young boy and his survival after a shipwreck, with a Bengal tiger, no less! The author behind this book, Yann Martel, is a talented writer that has devoted his life to crafting stories that take interesting paths en route to the truth.


Yann Martel was born in 1963 in Spain to Canadian parents who were part of the diplomatic corps. As a result of their work, he was exposed to many different cultures as a child, something that would show in his work later in life. Martel's family eventually returned to Canada, and he attended high school and college there. He majored in philosophy, but was not sure what his path in life would be, trying various jobs, including landscaping and working in restaurants. Eventually, Martel decided to devote himself to a writing career.

Martel traveled the world, visiting countries like India and France, to gain inspiration for his writing. He met his partner, English author Alice Kuipers, in 2003, and they had a son, Theo, in 2009. Martel continues to write, and was the writer-in-residence at the University of Saskatchewan.


After university, Yann Martel wrote several books, one of short stories and the other a feminist novel, both of which were commercial flops, and decided to travel the world to experience life and gain inspiration. After traveling in India in 1999, and reading Moacyr Scilar's Max and the Cats, Martel was inspired to write his most famous novel, Life of Pi, a novel about an Indian boy, Pi, and his survival at sea with a tiger on a lifeboat. The novel won him the Man Booker Prize in 2002.

Life of Pi cover art
Cover Art for Life of Pi

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