Saturday, April 5, 2014

Decoded: Mini-Review

Synopsis (from book flap): 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.

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 synopsis above.  The synopsis that grabbed my attention and caused me to pick this up at the library.

The entire first half of the novel (perhaps even a bit more) is taken up in a minutely-detailed exposition of Jinzhen's ancestry--his family and all the details surrounding them and his birth and who he his and where he came from and where they lived and how they made riches from salt and how they lost their wealth and.... And--by the time we actually got around to the meat of the story I found I had no interest at all. Is there a need for an explanation of Jinzhen's background? Absolutely. Is there a need to go into such mind-numbing detail? In my opinion, absolutely not--because by the time I had made my way through the first half Mia Jia had lost this reader. And the intrigue of the thriller never brought me back.  

Readers who are more capable at discarding preconceived notions about the pacing of a mystery/thriller may thoroughly enjoy this novel--and judging by the rating on Goodreads that is absolutely possible. I am sorry it wasn't possible for me.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Maybe the lack of pacing and excitement gets lost in translation? Translating their terms to our English ones can sometimes take away the luster in the writing.
Great review though, for your honesty.