Celebrated for his imaginative narratives that traverse both geographical and philosophical terrain, Canadian author Yann Martel was born in Salamanca, Spain, in 1963 to peripatetic parents. His formative years were marked by diverse cultures and landscapes – with stints in Portugal, Alaska and Costa Rica – that would profoundly influence his literary sensibilities.
Martel is best known for 2001’s Life of Pi, a mesmerizing novel that recounts the odyssey of a young Indian man adrift in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger as his sole companion. Deftly interweaving allegory and adventure to explore themes of faith, survival, and the power of storytelling, the story’s philosophical depth and captivating narrative earned Martel the Man Booker Prize, propelling him into literary limelight.
Martel’s subsequent works, including 2010’s Beatrice and Virgil and 2016’s The High Mountains of Portugal, continue to showcase his penchant for blending the quotidian with the metaphysical, inviting readers to engage with artful reflections on the human condition.
In a reading list for The Week, Martel shared six books that have most impacted his life and craft, from Dante’s Divine Comedy to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Dive into his recommendations below, and explore the bookshelves of other celebrated writers here.
Yann Martel’s Reading List
“A sober and luminous novel about a man who waits his whole life for his life to start. You read it and then you want to run out and act.” -YM
The Gift by Lewis Hyde
“A work of nonfiction that looks at the meaning of gift-giving, of giving without seeking monetary reward in return. I read it—and wished damn money didn’t exist.” -YM
“Forget what you think you know about the story. It starts as a fairly conventional gothic horror story—until you get to the last chapter. There, you find one of the greatest descriptions in literature of the battle between good and evil in the human heart. We are all good Dr. Jekylls, and the moral question put to each of us by the novel is the same: What will you do with the evil Mr. Hyde lurking in you?” -YM
“A remarkably evenhanded account of the colonization of Nigeria by the British. It’s a subtle, poignant story about the tragic clash between two civilizations that met and showed each other their worst sides.” -YM
“From 14th-century Italy, one of the great allegories of world literature. Nothing stuffy or boring about it. It’s a moral map of the world Dante lived in, filled with evil characters but also the possibility of redemption.” -YM
Property by Valerie Martin
“Property is about the insidious nature of injustice, how a system that is corrupt perverts not only its victims but also its victimizers. In this case, the injustice is slavery in the American South in the early 19th century. Manon Gaudet owns Sarah, but slavery owns Manon’s soul. A searing and gripping tale.” -YM
(via The Week; photo by Geoff Howe)
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