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Decoded

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3.24 of 5 stars 3.24  ·  rating details  ·  826 ratings  ·  174 reviews
Rong Jinzhwen, perhaps one of the great code-breakers in the world is a semi-autistic mathematical genius recruited to the cryptography department of China's secret services, Unit 701, and assigned to break the elusive 'Code Purple'. He rises to be China's greatest and most celebrated code-breaker, until he makes a mistake and descends into madness. The author, pseudonym o ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 18th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2009)
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switterbug (Betsey)
DECODED, although about the life of a cryptographer, is not about the nuts and bolts of cryptography. You don’t need to be interested in the application of it; rather, it is more about one man in particular, whose life brought him to this secretive, isolating practice. Rong Jinzhen is a brainiac in mathematics and also likely a man with Asperger’s syndrome. Jia’s novel is a portrait of this unusual individual—an introverted, focused, and solitary genius. The narrative is subtle, unsentimental, y ...more
Dan
I am an avid reader of translated Chinese fiction and a long-time resident of China. Mai Jia is well thought of here, and many of my friends are devotees of his work. After reading this novel and discussing it with my friends who have read it in Chinese, it became clear to me that many of the problems that I have with the work are due to the translation - not so much the effort of translating the words, but in translating the nuances of meaning. The Chinese language and English are vastly differ ...more
Susan
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 Jia ...more
Sharon
Apr 09, 2015 Sharon added it
Shelves: 2014, dnf, world-books
I found it hard to keep going with this one. I am in the minority here, but felt totally removed from the characters. They felt flat and the writing didn't flow well in my opinion. Maybe something was lost in the translation process. I didn't care for the book or characters. I also found it rather repetitive and indulgent giving far too much opinionated explanation in some areas. One such event took several pages describing a chess game.

After reading 30% of Decoded, I reluctantly decided to not
...more
Betty
Apr 16, 2014 Betty rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: china
This book is badly marketed to the US market; it is not, as the book jacket says, "combining the mystery and tension of a spy thriller with the psychological nuance of an intimate character study". Not a mystery, not tense as a spy thriller. Yes, a psychological study. A best seller in China, it was a bit opaque for this Western reader.
Linda Robinson
There is so much going on in this book, I'm sure it would take more than one reading to uncover all the gems. We learn of the duality and pain in being a genius, especially in a realm that will make use of its citizens for the nation's advantage. The tiny nuggets of Chinese superstition and wisdom are fascinating. Mai Jia makes chess seem interesting on both a strategic and philosophical plane. Once I stopped trying to sort out which was A and B City, which country was X, it was much more enjoya ...more
Vanessa
I wasn't keen on the two versions of the story running through the book - it was hard to keep track and I had a feeling all the way through that I was waiting for the story to begin. You never got to know the main character in depth - which meant that it was difficult to relate to the whole work. Otherwise an interesting view of the China's secret services of the time - but certainly not "a spy thriller with psychological nuances" nor a riveting read.
Richard
Mar 31, 2014 Richard rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in formal experimentation and the attempt to rehabilitate realism
Recommended to Richard by: Dwight Garner review in the NYT
I liked this book very much. A NYT review last Tuesday brought it to my attention as THE great Chinese epic (I think Dwight Garner wrote the review but cannot find it on-line to quote it).

It is the story of a mathematical genius, Rong Jinzhen ("Zendi") who becomes a cryptologist for Chinese Section 701 who becomes legendary for breaking "PURPLE,' a complex code developed by X Nation, and who very nearly breaks "BLACK," another code either highly complex or downright simple. The story is really h
...more
Sub_zero
El don narra la biografía ficticia de Rong Jinzhen, un joven genio de las matemáticas con nulas habilidades sociales y un trágico pasado familiar, un prodigio muy codiciado por los académicos de su tiempo que entrará a formar parte del servicio de inteligencia militar chino por su capacidad de descifrar códigos aparentemente inquebrantables. A simple vista pudiera parecer una historia interesante, pero lo cierto es que El don carece completamente de cualquier aliciente narrativo más allá de su v ...more
Po Po
This is a 300 + page ode to the genius of Rong Jinzhen (nickname- zhendi).

The story itself is pretty interesting--although a good editor could've whittled this thing down to maybe 1/2 or 1/3 of its current length, to keep a nice momentum going, instead of needlessly dragging on and on.

There's a 50 to 75 page section of special horror in the last third of the book which is comparable to slogging through quicksand while you helplessly watch your loved ones sink right before your eyes as you make a
...more
Karen
I enjoyed the first half of this novel, but then the story sort of fell apart. The subject and characters were interesting; the structure tedious. Once the fate of the main character is revealed, there didn't seem to be any point to the rest of the book. At best, it was not a page-turner. I'm a bit puzzled why anyone would call it a "thriller," as there's very little action or tension. That said, it does convey a strong sense of the place and period, especially the paranoia and secrecy of Chines ...more
Joseph
This book may well get into your head, it got into mine. At core, it is a book about madness. More specifically, a book about exceptional intelligence, perhaps genius and what might sometimes be the steep, magnetic cliff that hovers too close to genius. For the main character, Jinzhen, life was duality. On the one hand, there was reality, specifically the realness of things, living in the physical world. On the other hand, inextricably linked were dreams, the dreams were a parallel virtual world ...more
Bev
It seems plain to me that I just don't get mysteries as written by Chinese authors. Previously, I had read A Pair of Jade Frogs by Ye Xin and I struggled with it as well. The problem for me is pacing and expectations--I realize this is absolutely my problem and no reflection on the authors at all (thus, I have not given a star rating to this novel--it wouldn't be fair). Decoded takes forever to get to the main kernel of the story--namely the problem highlighted in the first paragraph of the syno ...more
Barbara
“Decoded” is a brilliant and ambitious novel that begins as a fable and ends as an espionage thriller. Mai Jai’s style is lyrical with a judicious amount of analogies to beautifully communicate the overwhelming world of mathematics and cryptography.

It’s a story of the life of Rong Jinzhen, a mathematical genius on par with Stephen Hawkings. Jai uses the first person narrative in telling the story. It’s from an un-named reporter’s point of view, in a manner that is engineered to be a true accoun
...more
Shaz
Worst book I've read this year. If they're trying to promote Mai Jia as the next Murakami, it'll never happen. How is this an "international bestseller"? As a Chinese person, I found this book TOO Chinese as it espoused stuff like fate / serendipity, the government being an almighty great system (puh-leeze), the benefits of communism and working late even though you don't need to. You don't know how many times I rolled my eyes reading this book.

The characters are terribly one-dimensional but wha
...more
Greg Z
I've read English translations of books the world over, so I know when talking about/reviewing a translation, we're partially reviewing the translator's work. Especially when there are huge differences in language, such as Chinese/English. I very much liked the first 2/3rds of this book, as the story of the lead character's childhood, education, etc., was fascinating. But the last 100 pages or so confused me. Just when I thought the author was about to explain why it was so important that a spec ...more
Al Bità
Found this in the remaindered section of the local bookshop, and from the blurb at the back I thought I would give it a try. The fact that this translation was published in 2014 and that it was already on the remaindered pile did not inspire confidence, but the high praise and subject matter written up in the blurb made me think that it might be worth reading, if only to find out what all the fuss was about.

I’m sorry to say that, for me, this work simply did not gel on any level… neither as a “s
...more
Pedro Fragoso
Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is very much about the history of cryptography; "Alan Turing - The Enigma" is the unbelievable true biography of a cryptographer for the ages; this book is a reflection on the fundamental frailty of life and the random vagaries of existence, under a very Chinese (I can only presume!) approach to reasoning, and using a fictional cryptographer's life as pretext. It is an ambitious literary opus and a fascinating reading, even if ultimately I felt it somewhat lacking ...more
Paul Bartusiak
Is a better version of LeCarre's A Perfect Spy good enough?

Decoded is Chinese novelist Mai Jia's international best seller in the spy genre. According to an article by the Wall Street Journal , the novel debuted back in 2002, a full 12 years ago! Apparently English-language publishers weren't initially interested; perseverance pays.

The book is touted as a spy thriller. Although it certainly deals in the clandestine world, it's not really a "thriller." The WSJ journal article (by Anna Russell)
...more
juan carlos
Un libro que me requirió mucho como lector y como investigador. Con un estilo narrativo adictivamente complejo, esta novela te presenta como la razón y la inteligencia, termina en lectura. Le baje a 4 estrellas ya que las ultimas 100 paginas se me hicieron eternas y sentía que no llegaba al final que yo quería.
Si te gustan las matemáticas y el terror y el misterio y la historia de guerras y códices, este es tu libro.
John Pappas
At one point, Jia writes that being a cryptoanalyst is like being a mouse in a silo full
of poisoned grain - everything is yours if you can just figure out how to neutralize the dangerous outer shell. This aptly and intensely describes the chess game between the crypto-analyst and the cryptographer, but the tightness of this image, and the intensity of the game theory-in-practice of the idea of the war between the coders and the decoders, is never fully
realized or achieved here. The elliptical de
...more
Stacey
This is a spy novel. But, if you read it expecting Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne, you'll be frustrated (and probably disappointed). This is the cerebral side of spying. Cryptography is a strange and lonely business. There's alot about mathematics, dream interpretation and the way luck and free association work together. Also, alot about obsession and madness.

This is a translation, so some of the sentence structure - and the story construction - feel unusual (at least to me, as an American reader).
...more
Milou Pujol
I enjoyed the first part of the book, but then I found it hard to keep going.
It was interesting to read about the China's secret services of the time but I found it too repetitive in it's descriptions and events.
Roxanne
It was ok. The first 30 to 40% are interesting as an experience of reading a translation. But it just got extremely boring. Disappointing as I was really looking forward to enjoying this novel.
Sonia Almeida
This book had a great start, very captivating. Rong Jizhen’s family story and the way he appears on the book are very good, and keep the aura of mystery and awe around the plot.
However, the mystery never really unveils, and we are left in a weird limbo without any resolution, and the end of the story, if there is actually one, is very anti-climactic. The 2 last parts of the book feel detached from the rest, and shed no new light to it. it was of those books I would have loved to love, but it ju
...more
Zdenka M.
Rozluštěno je z části psychologickým dramatem, historickou ságou čínského matematického rodu, odhalení složité a vyčerpávající práce kryptografů (luštění šifer), vyprávění o životě výjimečného jedince – matematického geniálního zázraku a zároveň nahlédneme do temných zákoutí lidské mysli i života.
Nebudu vám nic nalhávat, kniha se nečte snadno a rozhodně nejde o lehkou oddychovou četbu. Velkým problémem je, že je kniha napsána jako vyprávění a obsahují velmi málo přímých řečí. Většina knihy je ta
...more
Biblioteca Lardero
'Si se para a pensarlo —continuó el director—, un genio matemático, alguien que desde la infancia había estado en contacto íntimo con la interpretación de los sueños, un hombre que había estudiado la filosofía china y el pensamiento occidental, y que había explorado las complejidades de la mente humana, era alguien que tenía un don y había nacido para ser criptógrafo.'

Rong Jinzhen es un chico fuera de lo común: educado por un extranjero en la China de los años veinte, vive una infancia solitaria
...more
Gregory
I read this book based on a positive review in The Economist. Although it is somewhat interesting for its picture of Chinese society and history, I didn't think it was successful as a novel. There were strange gaps and inconsistencies in the story, and the main character doesn't really develop beyond a one-note character.

Too much of the book relies on extended metaphors about code-breaking or the protagonist, and the metaphors were not particularly interesting or illuminating. After a while, one
...more
Alex Delany
As a disclaimer, the description of this book on it's inside jacket cover is a bit misleading. There really isn't any true comparison to a thriller/spy novel that can be made.

That being said, the structure of this novel was extremely interesting and refreshing, written in a voice that constantly blurred the lines between fiction, reality, and fable. The accomplishment of keeping me interested in cryptography, a subject I have minimal interest in, was a worthy one. Although characters lacked dep
...more
Graham Crawford
Like a lot of people, I appreciated the first narrative half of this novel, but found the second part dull, repetitive, and mostly incomprehensible. I note that a number of reviewers say that the English translation is not very good- so maybe that is the problem. It feels like the author is playing structural games, that there is a cipher to decode in the stream of consciousness rambles at the end - but if that is the case, the clues are far too cryptic and I haven't been able to find any posts ...more
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mysterious 1 10 Mar 06, 2014 12:43AM  
nice book 1 5 Mar 06, 2014 12:41AM  
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