Decoded Hardcover – Apr 1 2014
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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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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...
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.
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.
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.