Source: SCMP (4/10/20)
The Message, Mai Jia’s flawed wartime novel, can be read as disguised criticism of Chinese Communist rule
A fiction about the hunt for a spy among wartime codebreakers combines with a metafictional narrative about a writer looking for the story. The popularity of this bloated book is puzzling until it is read as a comment on the trauma of the Cultural Revolution
By Mike Cormack
Chinese author Mai Jia, whose best-selling novel The Message was recently translated in to English. Photo: Getty Images
The Message [風聲], by Mai Jia, tr. Olivia Milburn
Head of Zeus
Mai Jia’s books, now being translated and published in English, make great play of his huge sales in China. With global sales of 10 million, he is “the bestselling author you’ve never heard of”, according to the marketing hype.
His first novel, Decoded (2002), earned positive reviews from English-language media when it was translated in 2014 and has now been published in 33 languages. A large part of Mai Jia’s appeal, no doubt, derives from his background in the Chinese intelligence services, with Decoded focusing on cryptography and espionage, although it is set during World War II, which eases matters when publishing in the mainland.
The Message, which was published in Chinese in 2007, has a similar premise. In 1941, five codebreakers (Chief of Staff Wu Zhiguo, Section Chief Jin Shenghuo, cryptographer Li Ningyu, Secretary Bai Xiaonian and Gu Xiaomeng, a subordinate of Li) are taken to a commandeered villa in occupied Hangzhou by the Imperial Japanese Army. They are informed of communist activity in the area and given an intercepted message from a Commander Zhang to decode. Continue reading