cover image The Membranes

The Membranes

Chi Ta-Wei, trans. from the Chinese by Ari Larissa Heinrich. Columbia Univ, $17 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-231-19571-3

Chi’s classic queer Chinese-language SF novel, first published in 1995, makes its English-language debut and invites a new audience into its strange, subtle world. In the year 2100, Momo is a reclusive celebrity skincare specialist in the undersea metropolis of T City. Despite her deep loneliness, she avoids human contact, preferring to lose herself in browsing online, studying data secretly mined from her clients’ skin, and recalling her own troubled memories of a medically fragile childhood colored by the loss of a treasured android friend and her distant mother’s careerism. As the narrative weaves through Momo’s memories, it becomes increasingly referential and dreamlike, culminating in a cascade of exquisitely shocking twists that recast the story and Momo’s experiences of consciousness, identity, and gender in a new light. Readers will notice prescient echoes of modern life in Chi’s depictions of all-absorbing media consumption and loneliness in the midst of hyper-connection. Translator Heinrich closes with helpful context, situating the tale in the cultural boom of post–martial law Taipei. Though Chi’s meandering, restrained style will be unfamiliar to many Western readers, this captivating novel is rich and rewarding. [em](June) [/em]