Date: Feb 25th 2014 2:52p.m.
Contributed by: laurafitch

We really wanted to like this book. Really, we did. On paper, Decoded has got it all—a best-selling Chinese crime thriller author that in a previous life spent years in China’s secret service, high sales on the Chinese market, and a plot that ostensibly involves the type of agent activity that the author has first-hand knowledge of. But this English-language translation, the first for prolific author Mai Jia’s works, left us wishing that it were just over already.

The book follows the life of semi-autistic mathematics genius Rong Jinzhen, who is eventually—and far too late in terms of plot development—conscripted into China’s secret service as a cryptologist, breaking codes for the government. One of the issues we have with this book is one we have with other tomes of translated Chinese lit, such as Northern Girls or Blood of Yanqing County, which don’t appear to have gone through any kind of editorial process.

While Decoded reads like a long first draft with potential, there are so many digressions and repetitions that the reader isn’t aware of what the plot of the book is actually about until halfway through. Characters appear and disappear without incident, character development is almost non-existent. The narrative inexplicably jumps between a third-person narrator and interview transcripts from several of the characters in the story. It’s confusing, and unfortunately not an interesting enough code to crack.

Decoded is available from Penguin.

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