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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decoded
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...
Published 7 months ago by S Riaz

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars doesn't live up to expectations
I grant you it is well written, but having said that it really fizzles out 50 pages before the end - the plot is thin and there is little dramatic tension. If you like writing for writing's sake, well and good. If you want a novel about cryptography, buy robert harris's 'enigma'.
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decoded, 2 April 2014
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S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars surprised by how much it entertained me, 10 July 2014
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A. Bormann "bormaennchen" (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, 16 May 2014
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This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “Every ugly toad thinks that sooner or later he is going to get to eat the meat of a swan.”, 18 April 2014
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Hardcover)
Mai Jia, a popular novelist and winner of the Mao Dun Literature Prize, China’s highest literary honor, writes here under a pen name after serving for seventeen years as a member of the People’s Liberation Army and its intelligence services. Decoded, originally written and published for a Chinese audience in 2002, and newly translated and published in English, provides a fascinating study of cryptography and its dedicated cryptographers, many of whom give their lives (and even their sanity) to their work. The exciting and revelatory translation by Olivia Milburn and Christopher Payne provides new insights into worlds that have been closed to most of us, not just the hidden world of cryptography and the psychological toll it takes on those who dedicate their lives to it, but also the world of the People’s Republic of China and the thinking of many of its people.

Astonishing in its focus on the travails and inner torments of one major character, Rong Jinzhen, the novel features a psychological, individualized approach, something I did not expect for characters living within the group culture of China, especially among characters from the army and its secret intelligence services. An orphan who grows up within two adoptive homes, Rong Jinzhen, known in childhood as “Duckling,” is a mathematical genius, called “Idiot Savvy” in school, but he never stops feeling isolated and apart, however praised he might be for his brilliance and dedication to intellectual goals. He counts ants, the days that his “Daddy” has lived on earth before his death at age eighty-eight, invents his own multiplication tables, and becomes a chess player at the highest level of competition.

The older and more dedicated he becomes to what he is learning, however, the more preoccupied – even autistic – he becomes. With his lively mind focused totally on intellectual goals, he evokes our concern as he fails to make friends or find any happiness or inner peace. When he is eventually selected to work as a cryptographer for the state, he must leave behind everything he has ever known to participate at a remote and secret location on a project which will eventually consume him – the deciphering of PURPLE, the most difficult cipher ever created. Once Rong Jinzhen (often called Zhendi by those who remember him) disappears into Unit 701, he is essentially lost to everyone else who has known him as he works to break this code for his country.

The remainder of the novel appears in the form of interviews with two people, Master Rong, a female member of his family whom he saved during the Cultural Revolution, and Director Zheng, the man who persuaded him to join the cryptography unit. These interviews convey Jinzhen’s history and his story, but they feature much “telling about” the action, instead of creating lively stories told from “inside the moment.” The author’s use of dreams, often disorderly, reveal Jinzhen’s state of mind, and a shift in style from narrative to Jinzhen’s internal reveries to convey his inner turmoil in the middle section of the novel show his alarming changes. A literary novel, unique in its focus, setting, and subject matter, Decoded lives up to its title, providing exciting new insights into many aspects of life in the People’s Republic of China - and if a reader also happens to be a mathematician or serious games player¬, this novel will be utterly irresistible.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting unusual fictional work ,very much worth reading., 25 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Hardcover)
Very Unusual and intriguing fictional work
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Decoded, 31 Mar 2014
This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Hardcover)
Mai Jia’s Decoded is a complex thriller revolving around the shady world of cryptography during the tumultuous years leading up to the Cultural Revolution in China. Rong Jinzhen is a semi-autistic mathematical genius who is forcibly recruited into an elite code-breaking division of the army. He is assigned the task of cracking Code Purple and besting this notoriously difficult code leads to his elevation to Revolutionary Hero status before an even more complex code causes his world to come crashing down around him. The slow build-up to Rong Jinzhen’s story echoes the patience that he needs to crack complex codes and allows for Mai Jia to develop his characters as well as flesh-out the complicated backdrop of China in upheaval. Decoded is a clever spy thriller and a witty meditation on the past and present of China; it’s a gripping story and an excellent introduction to the work of Mai Jia.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars doesn't live up to expectations, 30 April 2014
This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Hardcover)
I grant you it is well written, but having said that it really fizzles out 50 pages before the end - the plot is thin and there is little dramatic tension. If you like writing for writing's sake, well and good. If you want a novel about cryptography, buy robert harris's 'enigma'.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good book, 12 May 2014
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This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Hardcover)
amazing novel!i wanna meet the writer maijia,he is in china?amazing country!i like the novel most,i wanna read his other novels
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bit different fun, 25 April 2014
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This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Hardcover)
An intriguing novel. Slightly different from usual suspect, and some odd translations (I think 'elephant chess' should be 'shogi'), but this is certainly different and gripping.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 31 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Decoded: A Novel (Hardcover)
Romanesque
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Decoded: A Novel by Mai Jia (Hardcover - 18 Mar 2014)
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