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Decoded: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Mai Jia
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Decoded tells the story of Rong Jinzhwen, one of the great code-breakers in the world.

A semi-autistic mathematical genius, Jinzhen is recruited to the cryptography department of China's secret services, Unit 701, where he is assigned the task of breaking the elusive 'Code Purple'. Jinzhen rises through the ranks to eventually become China's greatest and most celebrated code-breaker; until he makes a mistake. Then begins his descent through the unfathomable darkness of the world of cryptology into madness.

Decoded was an immediate success when it was published in 2002 in China and has become an international bestseller. With the pacing of a literary crime thriller, Mai Jia's masterpiece also combines elements of historical fiction and state espionage. Taking place in the shadowy world of Chinese secret security, where Mai Jia worked for decades, it introduces us to a place that is unfamiliar, intriguing and authentic. And with Rong Jinzhen, it introduces us to a character who is deeply flawed and fragile, yet possessing exceptional intelligence. Decoded is an unforgettable and gripping story of genius, brilliance, insanity and human frailty.

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 became the highest paid author in China last year with his new book, Wind Talk. He has achieved unprecedented success with film adaptation: all of his novels are made - or are being made - into major films or TV series, the screenplays of which are often written by Mai Jia himself. 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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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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 687 KB
  • Print Length: 254 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1846148197
  • Publisher: Penguin (12 Mar. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00ED6HLU4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #63,939 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars surprised by how much it entertained me 10 July 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Brilliant novel that also challenged me as a non-maths graduate to read up a bit more on maths theory. However, it wasn't all about that. It was much more about good old story telling, politics, families, borderline autism and philosophy.
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3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but Overrated 19 July 2015
Don't buy this book expecting a spy thriller - the cover may promise "China's answer to John Le Carre" but that comparison is rather misleading. The first half of this story is actually taken up with a longwinded history of the protagonist's family tree. Even though there's not much relevance to the second half of the book, it is an interesting account of early 20th Century Chinese life. Actually the book goes downhill with the main thrust of the second section - when the protagonist is recruited by the Chinese government to become a cryptographer. There is an interesting strand throughout which portrays the boundaries between genius and madness, but this can't make up for the weak plot. I was expecting some (even general) discussion on cryptography or code breaking itself, or indeed what the codes were being used for, but instead all we ever learn is that they are called PURPLE and BLACK. That's about it. [Spoiler] The protagonist cracks one and cracks up over the other. There's lots of pseudo-maths (such as whether pi really is a constant) and pseudo-code ("Who would have imagined that BLACK would have no lock on it, the cryptographic key was the number zero!" talk but it's never very convincing. Overall this is readable book, which would have been better as a straight account of Chinese family life as here it is clear the author has something interesting to say. On cryptography, maths and espionage - which should make the main thrust of the story - there is little of real interest.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fairly cryptic 27 Jun. 2015
By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Mai Jai's debut novel Decoded may be many things, but it is not a spy novel. To some extent it is historical, but it really is a half-psychological, half-philosophical tale. If you expect some sort of cliff-hanger, some mystery in which it is revealed, in a stunning reversal at the end, that such and such character was always a behind-the-scenes puppeteer, you will be disappointed. The story is that of Rong Jinzhwen, a neglected youth from a family of brilliant academics, whose mathematical genius is discovered in his adolescence. Jinzhwen does not necessarily have the personality of a recluse, but circumstances contrive to make him so, and for his fragility to match the depth of his mental abilities. Part of the book is about code-breaking, but the it is essentially written in the style of a biography. At the same time, it is a meditation on genius and the nature and meaning of exceptionality.

Mai Jai's idiosyncratic style contributes to making the novel hard to place. It not so much that the narrative is interrupted with interviews of some of the protagonists, drawing the plot away from the format of a simple thriller and more towards the fictional biography it aims to be. The narrator's voice simply tends to jump around, from one topic to another, from action to general considerations at the oddest moments, from realistic to entirely off-beat scenes, like a cameraman changing lenses mid-way through shooting. Perhaps it is the effect of translation, perhaps Mai Jai aimed to mark his novel as specifically Chinese, an impression that also arises from its very orthodox political ambience. Decoded is an interesting work, but all this nevertheless makes for something of a curate's egg, and at the same time I would only give it a weak four stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable 16 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
more than the plot, the narrative invites you to submerge in an odd world of rural struggle, violent social change and love of mathematics. Characters diffusely defined and somewhat detached
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2.0 out of 5 stars Decoded 25 Mar. 2015
I bought this book because I liked the review I read in The Economist. I wasn't so terribly excited about the book. It says on the cover that it is a novel but it doesn't read like one. As I progressed through the book I thought the author was recounting an event in history. The interviews he mentions throughout the book underline that impression. Of course he could have invented it all but it didn't strike me as a piece of fiction. It does read a little bit like a family saga and yes it does involve a little bit of espionage but nothing terribly exciting. In a way it reminded me of A Beautiful Mind, although it is a good deal less dramatic than the movie.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decoded 2 April 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and rewarding
An unusual novel, which was easy enough to read, and enjoyable. I admit however I had the expectation that, in terms of the plot, it would 'burst into life' at some point though it... Read more
Published 1 month ago by anicoll5
4.0 out of 5 stars And none the worse for that
Not at all what I was expecting. And none the worse for that.
Published 4 months ago by jimmy de santis
1.0 out of 5 stars but gives a fascinating contextualization of the novel and explains...
The positive review attributed to the London Review of Books is actually from the Times Literary Supplement. Read more
Published 4 months ago by CWLockhart
3.0 out of 5 stars entertaining and oozing with patriotism
Good read and packed with side stories. Things happen almost by by magic sometimes. The unreflected patriotism becomes mildly irritating after a while.
Published 5 months ago by Jens Full
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting and well written but would have benefitted from a bit more...
Interesting and well written. Not quite what I thought it was when I bought it - I had expected a bit more about the actual process of codebreaking as well as the characters... Read more
Published 7 months ago by J. Nicholl
5.0 out of 5 stars Get this!
This excellent book gives an insight into China while telling the story of a cryptologist trying to crack codes to keep his nation safe! Wonderfully translated into English!
Published 8 months ago by J. Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting unusual fictional work ,very much worth reading.
Very Unusual and intriguing fictional work
Published 11 months ago by S Rahman
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 12 months ago by M.K. VAN DEN BERG
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