Ambitious businesswoman Mae Yu runs Golden Oaks – a luxury retreat transforming the fertility industry. There, women get the very best of everything: organic meals, fitness trainers, daily massages and big money. Provided they dedicate themselves to producing the perfect baby. For someone else.
Jane is a young immigrant in search of a better future. Stuck living in a cramped dorm with her baby daughter and her shrewd aunt Ate, she sees an unmissable chance to change her life. But at what cost?
Welcome to The Farm.
This is a book club book if ever I read one, with so many themes to discuss and opinions to explore. The Farm is a story about women and their bodies; class and privilege; sacrifice and exploitation all rolled into a genius piece of speculative fiction.
“….in America you only need to know how to make money. Money buys everything else.”
Golden Oaks offers young women a singular opportunity to earn big bucks serving as surrogates (Hosts) for wealthy clients at a private estate in New York. The rules are strict, but the payout enormous if you’re willing to take it.
The story is written in alternating chapters from four very different women. Jane, a young, single mother from the Philippines; Ate, an older immigrant with a keen eye for opportunities; Mae, Golden Oaks’ ambitious Director of Operations, and Reagan, an American Host keen to find meaning in her life. I felt that Ramos did each of these characters personal justice, writing without any real bias, and brought out the idea that capitalism is the villain of the story, not these women caught in the system. Each of them makes decisions in pursuit of a soured American dream, leading to an uncomfortable read that challenges the reader’s perceptions throughout.
There have been more than a few comparisons of this story to The Handmaid’s Tale, and at first glance that’s what it may appear to be – however Ramos has come under unjust criticism for falling short of Attwood’s masterpiece. The Farm is not a dystopic story like The Handmaid’s Tale, but it does share a similarity of unease, all linked to the price of fertility. There is no one forcing these women, their choices are their own, but does that make it right? Pregnancy isn’t upheld as something holy, it’s instead flipped around to be used as currency. Does that empower or reduce these women? Ramos has no answers so you’re forced to think for yourself. You will note that I referred to The Farm as speculative fiction and I think this genre perfectly captures what Ramos is trying to achieve. Surrogacy happens now, and it is probably only a matter of time before the ‘commodity’ of pregnancy is sold in such a way as at Golden Oaks in this story.
The premise of The Farm was incredibly thought-provoking and skilfully delivered by Ramos. It will tip you out of your comfort zone and force you to think about inequality, motherhood and the American Dream in a completely remarkable way.
The Farm is published by Bloomsbury Books and is available here.
Joanne Ramos was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was six. She graduated with a BA from Princeton University. After working in investment banking and private-equity investing for several years, she wrote for The Economist as a staff writer. She lives in New York City with her husband and three children. The Farm is her first novel.
Reviewed by Amber Mears Brown
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