- File Size: 2724 KB
- Print Length: 354 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1984853775
- Publisher: Random House (May 7, 2019)
- Publication Date: May 7, 2019
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07GD543B8
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,282 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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From the Publisher
“The Handmaid’s Tale vibes are strong, but the ‘holy sh*t this book is genius’ vibes are stronger.”—Cosmopolitan (“The 14 Best Books Coming Out in May 2019”)
“A horror story set in a not-impossible future, this fast-paced read will keep you on the edge of your seat as it explores topical issues with page-turning plot twists.”—MindBodyGreen (“5 Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down This May”)
“You know those books that immediately draw you in and suddenly you can’t think of anything else? . . . A cracking, chilling but also human page-turner.”—Joanna Goddard, A Cup of Jo
“A sharp takedown of the idea of American meritocracy.”—Refinery29
“The Farm is a smart, thoughtful novel about women, choices, and the immigrant experience that asks the question: How far would you go for the American dream?”—PopSugar, “Buzzy Books to Read This Spring”
“[The Farm] hits home hard—a thrilling read about the myth of meritocracy, the way some people get ahead in life before they’re even born.”—New York, “Spring Books Preview”
“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. Its very plausibility is a warning shot.”—USA Today
“Heady, chilling . . . [Ramos] peoples her book with figures who are appealingly engaging—or, at times, engagingly repellent.”—NPR
“Richly rendered and engrossing . . . [Ramos] has the acute gaze of the immigrant girl made good. Her book is a necessary one. . . . A great read.”—The Guardian
“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. . . . The result is an entertaining novel that is also a serious warning.”—The Times (UK)
“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.”—Paste
“[The Farm] is a fast, gripping read, and it’s ideally suited to a period of growing political engagement, in which readers want art to grapple with the moral dilemmas of our time.”—Pacific Standard
About the Author
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As a staff member for a bioethics organization (the Center for Bioethics and Culture), I was particularly interested in the surrogacy aspect of “The Farm.” How realistically did it represent surrogacy and the industry’s potential future? What sort of conclusions might it lead readers to make about surrogacy overall?
Imagine my frustration when it became obvious that “The Farm” is barely about surrogacy at all.
More on that in a minute. This is probably a good place to mention that there are too many things in this book to unpack for me to try dancing around spoilers. If you want to be surprised by “The Farm,” this is where you should stop, though I can't say I recommend reading it. In addition to a variety of spoiler-filled issues, I found it to be a slow, plodding read that turned its main core of women into caricatures of the viewpoints they represented.
“The Farm” rotates between four narrators; the first two receive the majority of the chapters while the last two appear only occasionally:
• Jane: a Filipino immigrant and single mother who becomes a Host in the the hopes of giving her daughter Amalia (six months old at the start of the book) a better life.
• Reagan: a young white Host who struggles with her dual motivations of wanting to help a family, yet also yearning financial independence from her wealthy, controlling father.
• Mae: an highly ambitious Asian-American woman, the head of the Golden Oaks “gestational retreat.”
• Ate: An older Filipino immigrant woman who is a sought-after baby nurse among New York’s elite families. She is Jane’s cousin, and first tells her about Golden Oaks; it is later revealed that she is a paid Scout for the company.
Also of note is Lisa, a white Host unabashedly driven by money who is carrying her third child for the same couple. She is the most jaded of the Hosts, and is portrayed as an ungrateful, slightly-crazed alarmist, despite speaking some of the most truthful lines in the book: “You’ve got to understand what this place is. Okay? It’s a factory, and you’re the commodity.”
“The Farm” opens with an emphasis on the ultra-rich New York families that hire predominantly immigrants like Ate and Jane as baby nurses, nannies and housekeepers, i.e., the target clientele of Golden Oaks. After Jane is fired from a well-paying baby nurse job, Ate tells her about Golden Oaks. Unable to pass up an opportunity where “the work is easy and the money is big,” she applies and interviews with Mae. Along the same time frame, we see Mae heavily recruiting Reagan, intending to offer her as a “Premium Host” to Madame Deng, an extraordinarily wealthy Chinese woman who is nearing 50 years old and has frozen embryos.
Fast forward to Jane checking in at Golden Oaks, recently implanted with an embryo, while Reagan has been there for two weeks. Seriously, “The Farm” makes exactly that leap within exactly two sentences. In one line, Jane is finishing her interview with Mae; in the next, she’s checking in. There is no elaboration on the implantation process, uncomfortable hormone injections or fears of complications, not even a mention of a positive pregnancy test. This was my first major indication that “The Farm” was not really interested in discussing surrogacy or artificial reproductive technology at all.
The remainder of the book largely follows Jane and Reagan, who are assigned as roommates, through their time at Golden Oaks. The driving source of tension becomes Jane’s anxiety over not being able to see Amalia for months on end. She is promised visits several times, but they keep getting revoked for a variety of reasons. Her stress and sadness, combined with Reagan’s savior mentality, Lisa’s tendency to go rogue, plus a miscommunication that makes Jane falsely believe Amalia has been hospitalized, all lead to the climax of Jane escaping Golden Oaks to see her daughter again.
Throughout “The Farm,” its inclusion (or lack thereof) of the technologies, legalese and ethics surrounding surrogacy was at the front of my mind. I was left with a lot of mixed thoughts about nearly every single page, but in the interest of this not becoming a dissertation, I’ve boiled them down into key points where “The Farm” misses the mark, hits the target, and is almost there.
Misses the Mark
Reagan has never been pregnant. The faulty logic in this is obvious no matter what side of the surrogacy debate you’re on. Surrogacy agencies categorically seek out surrogates who have proven they can carry a pregnancy to term. A real Craigslist ad for The Surrogacy SOURCE listed the following requirements, among others:
• “Previous pregnancies without complication”
• “Raising at least 1 child in your home”
Why why WHY would Golden Oaks target millionaire and billionaire Clients, promising the best of everything except a womb with a proven track record? Mae goes so far as to consider making childlessness a requirement for Hosts, backed by the flimsy logic that when other children are in the picture, “their loyalties, inevitably, lie elsewhere.” This actually counteracts the Big Fertility party line that already having a family of their own allows surrogates to detach from the surrogate child; they’ve had their kids, now they’re just helping someone else do the same. But as you’ll see in the next point, this book has zero interest in examining the mother/child relationship of surrogacy.
The only mother/child relationship “The Farm” cares about is between Jane and Amalia. After that, the biggest focus is on the relationships between the Hosts, and particularly on how race affects their interactions. We get next to nothing about how the women feel about their pregnancies, other than generically viewing it is as a hurdle to clear in the quest for a better life. There’s a moment of joy when Reagan first hears the baby’s heartbeat during an ultrasound, but that’s about it. For all we (don’t) see, these women have about as many feelings, positive or negative, about their babies as you’d have for the contents of your purse. The surrogate children are the least important characters in “The Farm,” and yet they are the very foundation for the story.
The surrogate pregnancies were essentially presented as having the same experience (and risk level) as a natural pregnancy. There was no acknowledgement that “the risk of severe maternal and fetal morbidities (disease and symptoms of disease) are increased for women that utilize IVF, especially those resulting from donor eggs,” a category that all gestational surrogates fall under. We actually see no pregnancy-related complications at all, aside from spontaneous abortions and later miscarriages happening to characters that are barely mentioned once. And while it wouldn’t make sense for Jane’s desperate, less-educated character to be concerned about a surrogate’s increased risk for pre-eclampsia, maternal hypertension and gestational diabetes, it would’ve only been natural for Mae’s analytical mind to consider such things as she meticulously monitors the Hosts. Readers are given the impression that Golden Oaks has a high success rate, and the skilled staff and state-of-the-art facilities allow the author to skip over dealing with any of the actual risks that would drag a real fertility center’s successful birth rate down.
Hits the Target
Surrogacy is eugenic – one of the Hosts has a forced abortion when it’s discovered that her baby has mosaic Down syndrome. Reagan goes on a small rant when she hears about it, finishing with,
“‘It’s a complete violation–’
‘Not of the contract,’ Lisa answers without missing a beat.”
And Lisa is right - loss of medical autonomy, including mandated abortion or selective reduction in cases of multiples, is a standard part of surrogacy contracts. Every feel-good campaign about promoting loving acceptance and opportunities for people with Down syndrome means absolutely nothing to Big Fertility, who will likely encourage parents to leave those embryos unimplanted in a frozen limbo or destroyed. IVF in the U.S. particularly is the Wild West: I've read an interview with a fertility doctor believes the target genes will eventually be found for things like height, vocal ability and athletic ability, “and when that happens, he will offer to screen for them. ‘If you do what I do, you can’t have a strong ethical opinion.’”
The big secret that Madame Deng has implanted embryos in multiple Hosts is not a fictional concept. A real surrogacy broker shared that VIP Chinese clients often start with two or three surrogates, and once the pregnancies are confirmed, they decide which babies to keep and which to terminate. Madame Deng uses nine surrogates (two children are confirmed born in the book, with a possibility for a third), but that doesn’t even reach the level of a Japanese man who won sole custody of 13 children he had using surrogates. And that’s not old news – that was in 2018.
“Baby factory” group living for surrogates is not unheard of internationally, though this typically happens where surrogacy is cheaper than in the U.S. rather than being a luxury experience, such as in Ukraine. The industry’s desire for control remains the same.
“The Farm” is set in New York, which I found...curious. In all likelihood, this book was nearing the end of its final edits well before the state’s current fight over legalizing commercial surrogacy erupted. As of now, NY only allows altruistic surrogacy; the Golden Oaks bigwigs dream about a second resort in California, which truthfully would’ve been a more realistic setting to begin with. Also, when Jane escapes Golden Oaks in her grand act of defiance, Mae uses the threat of kidnapping charges to bring her to heel. Can you “kidnap” an implanted fetus that isn’t biologically yours? According to NY law, the birth mother cannot relinquish her rights until after the child is born, and pre-birth parentage orders are not granted. So either Mae is guessing Jane won’t know it’s a empty threat, or whatever fictional contract the author has imagined is not based in legal reality.
The ending is disappointingly quick, convenient and, if anything, too easy on Jane. We jump from Mae getting Jane to agree to come back to Golden Oaks (she’s still pregnant at this point) to...two and a half years later. Another fast forward past incredibly crucial moments. Jane and Reagan both gave birth to babies for Madame Deng, but Jane lost her big final bonus due to her escape, putting her basically back at square one. Mae “asked Jane to be her surrogate. She told her that there was an apartment on their property where Jane and Amalia could live rent free during the pregnancy and, if things worked out, maybe even afterward.” Jane is now baby nursing/nannying Mae’s son. If you were hoping for a dramatic “underdog outwits evil corporation” conclusion, too bad, because in real life Jane could’ve had it far worse. She could’ve been saddled with paying the remainder of her pregnancy’s exorbitant medical bills, or told to repay money since she breached what is likely an iron-clad contract. Challenging any of this would mean a flood of legal fees that surrogates are rarely in a position to pay, and a fight against a company that has money to burn.
How did this book happen?
I honestly spent a lot of this book confused by its narrative choices. The blatant inaccuracies with realistic surrogacy arrangements that could’ve so easily been avoided, the emphasis on interracial friendships and attitudes between the Hosts, the comparative lack of any concrete discussion or inclusion of artificial reproductive technology...and then I read the author’s note. Joanne Ramos as a person is obviously more than the sum of a few paragraphs, but it’s extremely telling that she:
• Was born in the Phillippines
• Had her worldview opened to disparities of wealth, class, experience and opportunity while attending Princeton University
• She “realized one day that the only Filipinos I knew in Manhattan [New York], where I lived with my family, were the ones who worked for my friends--baby nurses, nannies, housekeepers, cleaning ladies...I listened to their stories...I saw the daily sacrifices these women made in the hope of something better.”
The author’s personal perspective encapsulates it all. It explains why “The Farm” essentially felt like “The Nanny Diaries,” except instead of carrying for the children of elite families, they’re literally carrying them. This focus on the uber-wealthy unfortunately ultimately leaves the story’s door open to make an argument in favor of altruistic surrogacy via a flood of “if onlys:”
• If only Golden Oaks hadn’t been so greedy and demanding...
• If only surrogacy was reserved for people who really need it instead of for vanity (Lisa's wealthy intended mother lied about suffering from endometriosis when she actually wanted to continue modeling)…
• If only we could all just get along and let happy surrogates carry happy babies for happy new families!
The besmirching of the uber-rich in “The Farm” is ironic, considering pop culture lauds celebrity surrogacy: Jimmy Fallon, Elton John, Kim Kardashian, Gabrielle Union, Tom Daley, Andy Cohen, take your pick. On the more normal end of the socioeconomic scale, surrogacy also leaves us wrestling with modern cases like the Nebraska woman who carried her gay son’s child. Simultaneous mother and grandmother, what on earth are we doing???
Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of ethics/bioethics, surrogacy, or modern “family-building” in any capacity in either the author’s note or acknowledgements. It’s entirely possible she conducted research that was not reflected in these components, but if that’s the case, I disagree with how she chose to warp truth for her fiction.
As to her intended purpose, she does write, “The book is meant to explore–for myself, and hopefully for its readers, too–questions of who we are, what we cherish, and how we see those who are different from ourselves.” I suppose “The Farm” does do those things, but that could’ve taken place within many frameworks. To use surrogacy as a mere vehicle, a husk scooped out to make way for her real emphasis, is a disservice to the women whose lives have been ruined by it and the children who have been and continue to be sold through it. The truth is so much more harrowing than this fiction.
(All quotations have been checked against the final, published copy.)
The book jacket synopsis makes this seem like it might be dystopian a la Margaret Atwood. Something terrifying that might come to be in the future. I found it to feel much closer to our current reality of extreme income inequality and commodification of every part of our lives. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if a place like The Farm already exists.
Addictive, exciting, disturbing, and relevant. This is a novel I would highly recommend to anyone.
Many thanks to #netgalley and #randomhouse for the opportunity to read an ARC of this title.
The Hosts are defintely engaging in a unique form of capitalism. They are acting as surrogates during a pregnancy for someone who either can't have children or who is choosing not to go through it themselves for various personal reasons. OK fine. The Hosts are promised a pretty good amount of pay, which isn't really discussed in the book. Just vague references to "bonuses". As the reader its hard to judge the value of they're being paid vs. what they're enduring. Mostly what they're enduring, on top of being a surrogate, is a somewhat Extreme level of isolation on the farm away from their friends, family, home, and in the case of at least one main character, their own children.
This isolation on The Farm is a big part of the premise of the book... but it also doesn't make a whole lot of sense, to me at least. I could see how someone might try to form a Premium Surrogate agency, where they find the best candidates and ensure their health (to the best of their ability) is maintained throughout the pregnancy. But it doesn't really make sense to me that a place like The Farm really makes the most economical sense for that. Especially since isolating everyone from their friends and family and their regular life would cause a ridiculous amount of stress, most of which ends up being the central drama of the story anyway.
The book is fine. Easy to read. Good characters. Just frankly too many things that don't really make sense in the long run. It makes no sense whatsoever that Jane, with a young child at home, would be expected to be away from her daughter for most of a 10 month period. Jane isn't in the military getting deployed overseas or something, she's a few hours away from her daughter.
The way Jane is repeatedly punished (having a supposedly massive bonus taken away from her) for problems that the Farm policies cause just doesn't ring true. Having whatever written into a contract doesn't make it an absolute. Jane would probably have grounds for suing the Farm into oblivion for basically kidnapping her, lying to her and violating many of her civil rights.
And Ms. Yu is a horrible person.
Like I said, I feel like we're all supposed to be impressed with some sort of message about Capitalism run amok, but frankly it just doesn't work right. In real life, capitalism would allow these women to absolutely destroy this company by exposing their practices and suing them into oblivion.
Top international reviews
The storyline, which is actually missing in action somewhere, is about surrogacy. Someone has set up a a business supplying surrogate babies to the rich and famous. The surrogate mothers live in a specially adapted campus, for the time of their pregnancy. The campus is dubbed The Farm. The mothers are scouted, tested and live in a lap of luxury that many are not accustomed to. The surrogates are paid well. That’s about it....
Oh, the gripping bits?!!! 1. Who is carrying the billionaire’s baby 2. Where’s Ate gone? (One of the scouts and cousin of surrogate Jane) 3. Who is Callie? That’s about as exciting as this tripe gets and I’ve had more enjoyment from watching paint dry.
Awful and I would be doing readers a great disservice by recommending this book.
This book is set within the spa-like compound of Golden Oaks. Golden Oaks offers a live-in centre for surrogates (hosts) for wealthy families to be free from outside threats and distractions, eat only the most nutritious food and live stress-free. The host selection process is intense and competitive but offers a large financial reward for those selected who do not breach the strict terms of their contract.
The story predominantly focuses on Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, who makes the difficult decision to serve as a host in order to help provide a better life for her young daughter Amalia. There are various other characters that we meet; Jane’s older cousin Ate - who has a history of looking after babies, Golden Oaks’ Director of Operations Mae, white, pretty and educated Reagan - a "premium host" who is driven by her need to do good and be of use and Lisa, also white, who is on her third pregnancy at Golden Oaks and frequently criticises the centre for its exploitation.
This story had everywhere to go, the potential, giving this plot, was huge but unfortunately it never really went anywhere. There was an underlying hint of something awful at Golden Oaks or that something horrific was about to happen but it never did, the ending was weak and felt rushed, we never really found out anything about any of the characters except for Jane and there were long drawn-out sections of the book that never really aided in the plot or flow of the story.
The book does touch upon issues like race, class, inequality, immigration, motherhood, greed, desperation, fear and isolation and morality but not really to any depth or very well. We seem to skim over all the gritty stuff.
Overall a really interesting concept but really lacking a good execution.
As a reflection of our skewed modern values, the existence of Golden Oaks is realistic, and it would have been more balanced & humane to present at least one client as other than a faceless business not. ‘The Rich’ are not all monsters!
As I read, I could see several key scenes playing out on film (especially Reagan’s Client ‘reveal’) and I’m very surprised, given the hype & range of female characters, that this isn’t already in development as a movie.