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Decoded: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Mai Jia , Olivia Milburn , Christopher Payne
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $26.00
Kindle Price: $11.04
You Save: $14.96 (58%)
Sold by: Macmillan

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Book Description

One of China’s bestselling novels, an unusual literary thriller that takes us deep into the world of code breaking

In his gripping debut novel, Mai Jia reveals the mysterious world of Unit 701, a top-secret Chinese intelligence agency whose sole purpose is counterespionage and code breaking.
Rong Jinzhen, an autistic math genius with a past shrouded in myth, is forced to abandon his academic pursuits when he is recruited into Unit 701. As China’s greatest cryptographer, Rong discovers that the mastermind behind the maddeningly difficult Purple Code is his former teacher and best friend, who is now working for China’s enemy—but this is only the first of many betrayals.
Brilliantly combining the mystery and tension of a spy thriller with the psychological nuance of an intimate character study and the magical qualities of a Chinese fable, Decoded discovers in cryptography the key to the human heart. Both a riveting mystery and a metaphysical examination of the mind of an inspired genius, it is the first novel to be published in English by one of China’s greatest and most popular contemporary writers.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Yan Shi, an aging Chinese code-cracker, views his life labor as “a sort of madness that pulls you close to insanity and to genius.” Readers skate the line separating insanity from genius in Mai Jia’s riveting tale of cryptographic warfare. At the center of Mai Jia’s taut novel, the mathematical genius Rong Jinzhen is spirited away as a young man to China’s secretive Unit 701, an elite cadre of code masters. There Jinzhen encounters the hero who broke WWII Japanese ciphers, now a helpless, chess-playing lunatic. Such is the peril Jinzhen faces as he launches his own lonely assault on PURPLE, the fiendish brainchild of his own former professor. In a narrative challenging readers to do their own decoding of its ruptures and inversions, readers see the brilliant protagonist survive daunting psychological dangers as he unravels PURPLE, inspired by a dream about the Russian chemist Mendeleyev. But when PURPLE’s sinister sibling, BLACK, emerges as the new foe, Jinzhen ventures forth again, veering toward mental breakdown when he loses a research notebook. A denouement at once heartbreaking and thought-provoking leaves readers pondering the collective sanity of a world shrouding knowledge in enigmas. Gifted translators bring English-speaking readers a Chinese literary treasure. --Bryce Christensen


“When I say that [Decoded] is excellent, I am referring both to its remarkable literary qualities and to the fact that it demands to be read in a single sitting.” —Alai, Mao Dun Literature Prize–winning author of Red Poppies

“What stands revealed at the end [of Decoded] is not a military code but the secrets of human existence.” —China Reading Post

Product Details

  • File Size: 1008 KB
  • Print Length: 321 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0374135800
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (March 18, 2014)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00EGJ34BS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,527 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Family history, mathematical genius -- and espionage February 20, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
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.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, enigmatic & weirdly whimsical January 4, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decoded April 1, 2014
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Cryptography is Secondary to a Story of Life in China
This novel is as much about life in China from about 1873 for the next 100 years as it is about cryptography. Read more
Published 18 hours ago by David Ahl
2.0 out of 5 stars A short book, but it felt like a long march
Alerted to this novel by The Economist, I waded through it determinedly. Some nice novelistic bits in the early going, and some interesting tidbits about cryptographers and... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Hack Steele
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite up to expectations
The Economist Magazine book reviews have typically been highly reliable for me. So after glowing review for "Decoded" and its selection as one of the year's top fiction... Read more
Published 5 days ago by wbjonesjr1
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
The author doesn't know anything about cryptography.
Published 18 days ago by YY
5.0 out of 5 stars Original and fascinating.
The story is original and fascinating.
It started at the end of 19th century. A family was facing changes, and so was China. Read more
Published 2 months ago by W.R.
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely love this book
I especially love the history of this specific time. I love this author and I have read his other novels and they are all very intriguing. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nancy McLain
5.0 out of 5 stars I always loved his novels
Being a big fan of math and special agent, I always loved his novels.
This story is about a man fighting the enemy with his talent in math, at the meantime decodes the man's... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Hazel Moira
5.0 out of 5 stars one of a kind!
not a big fan of math, but this book is just one of a kind. I actually have already read the Chinese version, this translated version actually is quite good. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Karens Wang
4.0 out of 5 stars "To triumph, we need results."
As ever, it is difficult for readers of a translation to know that the artistry on display is as intended by the author. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Michael Moisio
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Novel in recent years!
The best Novel about China I have read in recent years!
Published 2 months ago by X. Liu
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