Fans of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, will either be familiar with (or certainly should know about) unnerving dystopian thriller, The Farm, by Joanne Ramos.
The Farm asks big questions about how much of ourselves we are prepared to trade in return for a comfortable life. The novel is centred around luxury fertility clinic, Golden Oaks, which houses a group of women in varying stages of pregnancy… but the babies growing inside them are destined for the rich and powerful and the women soon come to realise that their surrogacies come at a chilling cost. The Farmpowerfully imagines what could well happen if surrogacy was taken to its high-capitalist extreme.
To mark our July digital issue starring Yvonne Strahovski, Joanne Ramos writes exclusively for GLAMOUR about how her groundbreaking novel is an eerie reflection of modern society.
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“…her ability to explore the nuances of these questions in the first place — in tight, spare prose, with well-placed plotting, no less — makes me hopeful that Ramos will pen another book soon.”
— Hayley Phelan, Los Angeles Review of Books
“The Farm, Joanne Ramos’s 2019 debut novel, is a potent tangle of these themes: the corrosive allure of privilege, the ethics of putting a price on fertility, the fine line between employment and exploitation.”
“…jaw-dropping – perhaps because…it could very easily be real … the novel’s main takeaway is clear: while the world of The Farm may currently be fictional dystopia, it could conceivably become reality. A terrifying thought.”
—Jane Bradley, The Scotsman
“[an] impressive debut…It is easy to read The Farm and state that the novel is about colonialism, capitalism and women’s rights. But the novel is rarely preachy, with a captivating plot and well-constructed characters to drive the narrative forward. It is as if Ramos writes from a standpoint so intrinsically intersectional that her ideas surface unconsciously, and somehow also unapologetically.”
—The Saturday Paper, Australia
“Subtle and at times thrilling, The Farm is a dystopia born of the world in which we live. It feels anything but removed from our current reality.”
—Bridey Heing, Paste Magazine
“Every season has its Big Book, the one everyone is talking about, and this season, it’s The Farm. This debut by Joanne Ramos is as good as most first novels get.”
—Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail
“Unnervingly plausible…Ms Ramos inhabits each [character] with affection, sensitivity and a keen ear for voice. Together, these women tell a story of an America in which ‘you must be strong young if you are not rich.’”
“…Joanne Ramos’s deft way of creating characters. She peoples her book with figures who are appealingly engaging — or, at times, engagingly repellent.
Some novels are born with book club DNA, great narratives that can also spur energetic discussions. Debate will rage around the treatment of the young women at The Farm, but the novel’s complex mélange of personalities brings a somewhat improbable story stirringly to life.”
––Jean Zimmerman, NPR
“Born in the Philippines and Princeton-educated, Ramos worked in investment banking and private-equity investing before turning novelist, life experiences that no doubt gave her the insight to write so convincingly of both worlds. Ramos ably toggles between hardworking Philippine immigrants who can’t seem to get a foothold on American prosperity and the monied elite who take advantage of the widening class divide.
…what’s so striking about “The Farm” isn’t that it imagines a frightening dystopia. This isn’t a hundred years in the future, it’s next week. This is reality, nudged just a touch to its logical extreme.”
––Barbara VanDenburgh USA Today
“So many factors—gender, race, religion, class—may determine where you come down on the surrogacy debate…. Joanne Ramos plays with many of these notions in her novel, The Farm, which imagines what might happen were surrogacy taken to its high-capitalist extreme.”
–– Jen McDonald, The New York Times Book Review
“Exploring the sacrifices we make for those we love, this gripping read really will keep you hooked until the last page.”
–Shereen Low, Heat (UK) (In print only)
“In her debut novel, The Farm, Joanne Ramos sets up the intriguing premise of monetising surrogacy by connecting needy immigrants with high-net-worth individuals who desire a child but are unable to have…
In its timely brush with gender politics and the framework of multi-character perspectives, it has more in common with Naomi Alderman’s 2016 novel The Power”
–Melanie White, Literary Review
“This is a delicately paced and finely wrought tale of high-end surrogacy, that is also a biting critique of the world’s inequalities … Moving, ethically complex and gripping, The Farm is a great novel.”
–Herald (UK) (In print only)
“The Farm is crammed with acutely observed scenes that place reproduction within an intricate web of class, gender and race … social ambiguities are finely etched …
The Farm doesn’t present a full-bore dystopia so much as occupy an uncomfortable space between now and the near future: if such an ultra-elite surrogacy venture doesn’t exist already, it surely will soon. In fact, the villain in The Farm is arguably unfettered capitalism. Mae truly believes the Hosts are “treated extremely well, and they’re compensated more than adequately for their efforts”. Yet while the wombs of Jane and friends may not be subjugated by force, the chasm of socioeconomic inequality throws free choice into doubt: the dystopia is now.” –Benjamin Evans, The Observer
“Wealthy foetuses occupy the bodies of immigrant women in a thrilling debut about the new frontier of colonialism and the savagery of the American dream.
The Farm reads not so much as dystopia, but as a plausible next venture for a capitalist ruling class that has grudgingly opened its doors to women and must now contend with the problem of fertility and motherhood. It is also a novel about the limits of American meritocracy. It asks us to consider who gets to rise (from poverty, immigrant abjection), and who must serve that person’s narrative. Is an enterprise exploitative if all parties agree?
The most beautifully realised character is Evelyn, an elderly Filipino baby nurse and caterer whose complex motives give her the kind of impossible moral struggles that immigrants actually face … Evelyn’s storyline, and her voice, give this novel its power.
As a fellow immigrant and financially aided Princeton student, I find Ramos’s take on the silliness of the rich wildly enjoyable. She has the acute gaze of the immigrant girl made good. Her book is a necessary one – we need a mass-market novel that shows the impact of colonisation, with flawed white people failing to save the day.” – Dina Nayeri, The Guardian (UK)
“It’s got book-club hit and bestseller written all over it … It’s so now. In fact it’s the very nowness that makes The Farm such a haunting read …Ramos has crafted a real page-turner that combines all the hottest issues of the day: inequality, race and women’s battle to reclaim their bodies from commodification by big business, with the eternal questions of how much we can sacrifice before losing ourselves completely. She is eloquent on the little intimacies of gestating a baby and the upstairs-downstairs dramas between rich white ladies who feel guilty about everything and their nannies who must debase themselves without making their bosses feel sorry for them. The result is an entertaining novel that is also a serious warning.” –Melissa Katsoulis, The Times (UK)
“A chilling tale of the struggles and sacrifices of surrogate motherhood…The Farm explores gender, race, and class, and of who has access to power, freedom, and choice.” –Princeton Alumni Weekly
“Traveling from the glitz of Manhattan to multiethnic, immigrant Queens and the isolation of the rural Hudson Valley, this is an exciting read about the politics of motherhood and female autonomy. Highly recommended for readers of both popular and literary fiction.” —Library Journal
“The most powerful element of this debut novel by Ramos, who was born in Manila and moved to Wisconsin when she was 6, is its portrait of the world of Filipinas in New York. The three-page soliloquy of instructions for nannying delivered to Jane by her more experienced cousin is a work of art in itself. Excellent, both as a reproductive dystopian narrative and as a social novel about women and class.” —STARRED KIRKUS REVIEW
“Ramos’ debut is so engaging that the reader might not fully understand the depths she probes until the book is done. Throughout, questions of money, ethics, privilege, and ambition arise as each character makes compromises—or straight-up lies to herself. An alarmingly realistic look at the power of wealth and access buoyed by clear, compelling storytelling and appealing…characters.” —STARRED BOOKLIST REVIEW
How much would you sacrifice to achieve the American Dream?
Interview and Review of The Farm and Q & A with Joanne Ramos
What could be better than living on sprawling beautiful property in the country, healthy food being served to you, fresh air and exercise, massages and pampering, and a generous, life changing paycheck, while all your needs are being met? The catch…you must stay on the premises and be separated from your family and friends for nine months while you are pregnant with a baby that doesn’t belong to you.
In this stunning debut novel, The Farm, female-centric and slightly dystopian (will be appealing to fans of The Handmaid’s Tale), author Joanne Ramos creates Golden Oaks, a secluded, country club atmosphere in Hudson Valley, NY where mostly foreign women are bearing children for elite clients who are not able to get pregnant or who choose not to.
Jane, a young, single Filipina mom with an infant, no husband and no secure place to live, decides to leave her own baby with her cousin, Ate, and take a job at Golden Oaks, where she will make enough money to better her life. She is chosen to be a Host, living in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where her only job is to rest and keep the baby inside her healthy. Nine months is a long time to be separated from your family and as time goes on, Jane starts to question the value of that big paycheck versus her sacrifices associated with being away. She is worried about her young daughter and her cousin, and is unsure the money alone is an adequate tradeoff for the painful separation and the missing of milestones.
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Q: How did you come up with the idea for a novel centered on a surrogacy farm and do you know anyone that ever worked at one?
A. When I finally dared to commit to writing a book, a childhood dream I’d deferred for decades, I was already forty. Certain ideas had obsessed me for much of my life but finding a way into them—finding the right story to contain them and, also, allow them room to breathe—was difficult. I spent well over a year writing short stories, flash-fiction pieces and “first chapters” of stillborn novels. It was an exercise in persistence and, also, faith. Then one day, when reading my husband’s Wall Street Journal, I happened upon a snippet of an article about a surrogacy facility in India. The what ifs began swirling in my mind almost immediately, and The Farm began to take shape.