Author: Mai Jia
Published: 2014 by Allen Lane (First published January 1st 2009, Translated by Olivia Milburn)
It’s the first time that I’ve actually read a Chinese contemporary novel that was translated into English. I’ve been planning to read one for so long so when I saw this book in the book sale, I was sold. From reading the title and the synopsis, I’ve initially thought that the novel would be about cryptography and unraveling them. But that was only a part of it, in fact, I think it was what helped explained the personality of the main character, Jinzhen. After completing the book, I realized that this book is not only about decoding a seemingly impossible crypt. but also to decode the mind of a genius who eventually descended into madness.
The writing style was attracting. It was written from the point of view of a writer who interviews a number of people who he thinks are important on shedding light on the mystery of Jinzhen. The transcription of the interviews are interspersed between the pages which really makes it interesting to read. Filling the pages of the book are countless analogies to make it easier for us readers to see the picture and understand the story more deeper. This sets it apart from English books, which are usually straightforward. Mai Jia writes succeeded in painting the mind of a genius, which is something like a maze, to make it more easier for the readers to connect with the main character. That’s just what I love about reading novels translated from Chinese and Japanese.
The story was about the life of Jinzhen but before he came into the story, Mai Jia started everything off by giving a history of the lives of Jinzhen’s ancestors and how it eventually leads to him. It’s interesting to note that genius runs in the family. It’s like a mountain. The story of Jinzhen officially starts when he was a child and goes on to when his genius was realized by other people and then his reputation increased when he succeeded in decrypting a high-level cipher, PURPLE. Everything starts to go downhill with the presence of BLACK, the sister of PURPLE. He began to descend into madness then. On the last page of the novel, the writer asked Jinzhen’s wife if she ever regretted marrying him and she said how could she regret it when she loved her country so much. That made me wonder whether she married Jinzhen for the sake of the country or was it because she really loved Jinzhen to the point where she considered Jinzhen as her country?
I loved Decoded because it shows the weaknesses of a genius and what runs through their minds and when they expect too much of themselves, even a little trouble could ruin them. They actually destroy themselves and that really got me there. This book really deserved the award it got.