Momo is the most celebrated dermal care technician in the T City undersea dome, with a curated list of clients and an intimate workspace she calls Salon Canary. However, after a journalist client nudges her to do a public interview, Momo’s estranged mother contacts her again. She asks to meet for the first time in two decades—the first time since Momo left for boarding school. The possibility of reuniting with her mother provokes a cascade of complicated memories and feelings, which Momo frames through questions about the nature of her attachments, her memories, and even the flesh of her own body.
First published in Taiwan in 1995, The Membranes is a classic of queer speculative fiction in Chinese—one that is, with this agile translation from Ari Larissa Heinrich, accessible to an English-language readership for the first time. As part of Columbia University Press’s “Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan” series, this edition of the novel also comes with an excellent afterword titled “Promiscuous Literacy: Taipei Punk and the Queer Future of The Membranes.” The short essay conversationally explores the time and place that Chi Ta-Wei was writing from, an explosion of artistic and cultural development in mid-90’s Taiwan after the end of martial law—and reflects on what it’s like to read the book now, twenty-five years later.