Yann Martel was born in 1963 in Salamanca in Spain. As a child of Canadian diplomats, he grew up in various countries. While studying Philosophy in Peterborough, Ontario he worked various jobs, including as a tree-planter and security guard, and he also spent several months in Turkey and India. After graduating Mantel decided to become a writer, and spent a further 13 months travelling across the Indian subcontinent.
The author’s literary début came in 1993 with the short story collection »Seven Stories − The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios«. The basic ideas in his work are already apparent here: specifically, each of the stories has a philosophical problem at its heart. In the eponymous story, the narrator’s language becomes air. Writing is equated with life. Like a post-modern, transformed Scheherazade the hero keeps his boyfriend, who is sick with AIDS, alive with the tales of a Finnish clan. Existential themes like death, freedom and spirituality are examined in various constellations of characters. Religion and the meaning of life are also major themes in Mantel’s most famous book, »Life of Pi« (2001). On the surface it is an adventure novel: Pi, the son of a zoo director, survives a shipwreck together with an orang-utan, an injured zebra, a hyena and a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. A life and death struggle erupts that can be interpreted as a blueprint for various outlooks on life and faith. The different levels are masterfully interconnected, but each can be read for itself. The author lets the reader decide »whether we follow him into the fantastic world of language without having to follow all the references, or whether we want to pay attention to the symbolism, or whether we want to try to extract the real meaning of things«, wrote Ulrich Sonnenschein in the »Frankfurter Rundschau«. After the short story »We Ate the Children Last« (2004), Mantel’s newest book is the novel »Beatrice and Virgil« (2010), his attempt to express the enormity of the Holocaust in literature. The book’s main characters are the writer Henry T., the author’s alter ego, and a taxidermist who has written a parable-like stage play about an ape and a donkey.
Yann Martel has won several literary awards, including the 2002 Man Booker Prize. The author lives with his wife and their son in Saskatoon, Canada.