HANGZHOU, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Espionage novel "Decoded" has become the first contemporary Chinese fiction ever published by Penguin Classics, marking its entry into the mainstream of global literature.
The English edition of the work by Mai Jia debuted in 21 countries on Tuesday and is the first of Mai's oeuvre of four books to be translated into English.
Decoded was first published in Mandarin in 2002.
Its main character, Rong Jinzhen, is an autistic math genius from an illustrious family. Rong is hired by the military's top secret Unit 701 to break two highly advanced codes -- Code Purple and Code Black. He experiences loneliness, loss and finally madness.
The novel also explores metaphysical concepts such as dream interpretation and the fine line between genius and insanity.
John Makinson, chairman of Penguin Random House, visited Mai on Monday in Hangzhou and brought him a deluxe English edition of Decoded.
Makinson said he hoped the publishing of the novel's English version would help Penguin Classics find more Chinese authors and publications.
International awareness of Decoded is no less than Mai deserves. The top-selling Chinese espionage novelist and former soldier found writing the book a long and arduous process.
"It took 10 years and the manuscript was sent back 17 times to be rewritten," said Mai, 50.
He compared the book to a grindstone that, despite the tortures, helped him reach the culmination of his literary creation.
Decoded and a series of other espionage novels brought him fame: millions of copies have been sold and some works were reproduced into TV dramas. The author himself won the Mao Dun prize, a top national literary award, in 2008.
"The success of Decoded was also brought by a stroke of luck," said Mai. "I felt that God was sympathetic and offered me a piece of bread."
He was right to some extent, as it was indeed a stroke of luck for China expert Olivia Milburn to have found the book and translated it into English.
Milburn bought the Chinese editions of two Mai novels -- Decoded and In the Dark -- at Shanghai airport in 2010 "just to kill time," as her flight back to Seoul had been delayed.
She said she found the books particularly fascinating partly because her grandfather worked as a cryptographer during World War II.
So she translated just one chapter of In the Dark into English and introduced the works to Penguin Random House editors through her friend Julia Lovell, another sinologist who had translated works by Lu Xun and Zhang Ailing into English.
A deal was reached immediately between the publisher and Mai's overseas agent.
While 17 publishers from 13 countries have reached deals to publish Decoded, translation of In the Dark is also under way and Penguin Random House expects a sample book will be available by the end of this year.
Penguin Classics, founded in 1935, has also published works by older generations of Chinese writers, including Dream of Red Mansions by 18th century author Cao Xueqin, The Real Story of Ah-Q by Lu Xun, Fortress Besieged by Qian Zhongshu, as well as Lust, Caution by Zhang Ailing.
Books in this series are generally held to have entered the Western canon.