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Decoded Hardcover – Apr 1 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (April 1 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141391472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141391472
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3 x 24 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 558 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #9,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

A mixture of Kafka and Agatha Christie ... One of the joys of Decoded is its rich evocation of Chinese culture ... What is this book really about? The clue is in the title. This book is more about Jiang 'decoding' himself than breaking enemy encryption. It is an autobiography operating under the cover of spy fiction - and an utterly fascinating read ... Olivia Milburn's translation is superb -- Edward Wilson The Independent The novel shines in its consideration of the ambiguous difficulties of living with such brilliance ... Decoded is compelling for its tightly wrought aphorisms, elegantly turned in Olivia Milburn's translation ... An engaging and highly unusual read Sunday Independent FINALLY, a great Chinese novel ... This strange, twisting tale is told in fizzy, vivid and often beautiful prose. It is an absolute joy to read Economist Decoded is a subtle and complex exploration of cryptography, politics, dreams and their significance ... There is much of interest in this book, from the strange, superstitious beginning to the gradual decline of the Rong family as the twentieth century progresses ... But in the end, it's the complexity of the characters that is Decoded's enduring pleasure London Review of Books Strongly recalls One Hundred Years of Solitude, only this time with the tapestry stitched in silk Sunday Business Post The book's subtle ambiguity is extended to its own conclusion, the decoding of which the reader is compelled to take part in. As for the shrewd, poetic, baffled figure at the heart of this maze, Rong Jinzhen comes to perceive the yin and yang of a cosmic order offering not much consolation Wall Street Journal Subtle and psychologically focused ... the central story is a gripping one ... it leaves you eager to read more of his work -- Alexander Larman The Observer

About the Author

Mai Jia (the pseudonym of Jiang Benhu) is arguably the most successful writer in China today. His books are constant bestsellers, with total sales over three million copies. He is hailed as the forerunner of Chinese espionage fiction, and has created a unique genre that combines spycraft, code-breaking, crime, human drama, historical fiction, and metafiction. He has won almost every major award in China, including the highest literary honor - the Mao Dun Award.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Serious writing from China, a real psychological thriller in the heart of modern China. Excellently rendered in English.
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Format: Kindle Edition
For some reason when I ordered this book I thought it was about those dudes from the NSA and CSES who monitor our emails and the internet and try to break into similar systems used by the governments and companies of other countries. But no, this is about Jinzhen, a genius cryptographer working for the Chinese government back in the 1950s. He suffers from aspergers and is the orphan son of a math genius who was the daughter of a math genius who was the son of one in a thousand years math genius. Without a computer capable of millions of calculations per second, Jinzhen has only his brain to unravel a seemingly impossible enemy code. The novel is very Kafkaesque with its detachment from the world outside cryptographer perhaps mirroring Jinzhen’s own separation from the people around him. Despite my initial disappointment, I found the novel both entertaining and an interesting insight into the Chinese culture.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 99 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Family history, mathematical genius -- and espionage Feb. 20 2014
By S. McGee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This evolves into a compelling and intelligent thriller -- eventually. The key word here being "eventually", as a reader who's expecting Daniel Silva-like thrills and chills right out of the gate will be bemused, bewildered and frustrated. Because before we ever watch mathematical genius Rong Jinzhen wrestle with the mysteries of cryptography in a secret Chinese department devoted to the subject, we follow the story of his great-uncle, his grandmother, his father, and his own isolated early childhood. All of those in his line of descent in the Rong family, it seems, are born with extraordinarily large heads: the question is whether that signifies extraordinary ability (as with his grandmother) or extraordinary devilry (as with his father). His family members want nothing whatsoever to do with Jinzhen, so in the years leading up to the Communist victory of 1949, he is raised in a remote corner of his family's large compound, neglected and ignored by everyone except the Western scholar whose interpretation of a matriarch's dream turned out to be the catalyst for the foundation of a new university and China's top school of mathematics. To which Jinzhen, of course, finds his way...

By that point, if you can keep an open mind and trust that the author is leading you somewhere interesting, you're engrossed in Jinzhen's unusual personality and unusual -- astonishing -- abilities. I certainly was, and I felt for him when the authorities -- viewing his mind as merely a tool rather than as part of a person -- put him to work on an apparently unbreakable code in a remote, isolated location. The code is one enemy, but could a friend and mentor be another? Yes, there's suspense, but not in the sense of an action movie. To read and relish this novel, you need to put aside perceptions of what a suspense novel "should" be, and focus instead on this particular tale, as told by this particular novelist.

Admittedly, the mathematical details here made my head spin. But the core story of Jinzhen's troubled past and troubled present was moving and the mystery -- not just the code but the personality of Jinzhen -- was gripping. At its heart, this seemed to me the tale of decoding a complex genius, rather than something as banal as unbreakable codes.

Definitely worth reading for those prepared to deal with the unconventional narrative style, and wait for the author to make his revelations...
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant, enigmatic & weirdly whimsical Jan. 4 2014
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The narrative starts with a fairy-tale-like account of the protagonist's famous family, in which genius and degeneracy appear in different generations. Mathematical genius, however, prevails in Rong Jinzehn, the illegitimate son of a murderer. Jinzehn is nothing like other people – cold, uncommunicative, crude, obsessive, naive. His unlovable personality is oddly lovable.

The fairy tale turns into a spy story when Jinzehn is abruptly recruited by a top-secret intelligence agency and whisked off to a distant and tightly guarded compound. There he becomes a cryptologist and is assigned a seemly impossible code to break.

But Decoded is as much a psychological novel as a tale of espionage. Mai Jia is portraying a man waging a war of the mind and endangering his own mind in the process. The villain of the piece is not some enemy agent but rather cryptology itself. Ciphers are seen as the work of the devil – an exercise of craftiness fed by the evil of humankind and its sinister intent.

This novel is a metaphysical feast of ideas. It plays with the mysteries of mathematics, the relationship of genius and madness, the treacherous underbelly of patriotism and friendship, the nature of God, the power of deceit, the power of dreams...

The narrative structure of the novel is brilliant – contrived to convince the reader that this is a true account, not a mere work of fiction. It's impossible not to believe in the cryptographer and his heartbreaking experiences.

I read that it took Mai Jia ten years to write this book, and that it once ran over a million words. This doesn't surprise me. I have never encountered a more ambitious novel. Mai Jia delves into the elusive working of the mind with poetic abandon, all the while crafting a very good tale. There's even a love story, of sorts, among all the other enigmatic happenings.

Decoded is itself like a code, concealing and revealing the secrets of humanity and society. I loved it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Decoded April 1 2014
By S Riaz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Before you begin this book – the author’s 2005 debut and his first book to be translated in the West – you will have to put aside every preconception you have about spy novels. Although it is about a mathematical genius who is involved in breaking codes, it takes an awfully long time to reach that part of the story. Indeed, the first part of the book is involved mainly with the family history of the main character and most novels do not usually go into such detail. Mai Jia is a pseudonym for Jiang Benhu, who spent seventeen years in the People’s Liberation Army as an intelligence officer and is, therefore, perfectly placed to relate the story of his character – Rong Jinzhen (nicknamed Zhendi) – from his inauspicious birth to his University career and through to his recruitment at a research facility by the elusive intelligence officer, Zheng the Gimp. Rong Zinzhen is shown with almost autistic traits and we hear often from other characters about their reactions to him and other members of his family (genealogy certainly figures largely in this book), but our information is often through letters and diaries and, therefore, we have a distance from the action. In a way, we are almost with the narrator, discovering information alongside him, as he follows Rong Jinzhen’s path.

Once Rong Jinzhen is recruited, he becomes a cryptographer, involved in breaking a legendary code called Purple. This success causes him to become a Revolutionary Hero, but his attention then turns to the even greater matter of the code called Black. Although this is labelled a spy thriller, it is not in the usual form that you would expect from Le Carre, for instance. However, if you approach this with an open mind, you will find it a strangely compelling read. There is a reason why Mai Jia is such an enormous success in China – a bestselling author who has won China’s highest literary honour, and has had immense success. Before long, you find yourself totally immersed in the world and characters that have been created. His next novel is “In the Dark” and I hope that it will also be translated and appear in English soon.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Good Start But the Novel Disappoints April 24 2014
By G. Miki Hayden - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed and was touched by about the first third of the novel, the background to the so-called protagonist whose beginning in life was difficult to say the least. But for those wanting to read a Chinese thriller involving its secret, code-breaking agencies, this really isn't it. The structure fails--in my Western view--from beginning to end. I accepted the opening because, after all, not everything has to be the same as the mainstream American publishers insist on these days, and as I said, I was moved by the story of a brilliant young man with emotional (perhaps hardwired) problems. But once the supposed spy story gets underway, the novel flops. If you want a Chinese mystery thriller, read Qiu Xiaolong--his Death of a Red Heroine, or others.

In addition to being disappointed by the novel itself, I was horrified by the editing. In fact, it's obvious that the translators, once they were finished, weren't edited, and moreover, the book wasn't edited for the American publication. I could pick up any page and point to errors.

I just can't recommend this novel as either a window into Chinese espionage or as a thriller.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Bemused June 3 2014
By Leo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Encouraged by a review that hailed this novel as an absolute joy to read, I looked forward to immersing myself in it. On reaching the beginning of the novel's final section, I was informed by the narrator that the remainder of the book was not required reading, that it would add little to my understanding, that it was a mere coda and that whether I read on to the end was a matter of choice. After enduring the tedium, emotional aridity and implausibility of the narrative up to that point, I decided to read the remainder of the novel in case there was something in it that would justify the delirious praise that has been heaped on this novel by various reviewers. There wasn't.


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