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 one or unwilling to do the heavy lifting.
The titular ‘farm’ is Golden Oaks, brainchild of businesswoman Mae Yu, who sources suitable ‘hosts’ (surrogates) with the help of women like Ate, an immigrant matriarch in New York City who regularly finds jobs for struggling women in her Filipino community. It doesn’t seem a great leap from baby-nursing for rich Manhattan yummy mummies to carrying their young, and it’s far more lucrative than cleaning toilets. The novel intertwines the experiences of four characters: Mae, Ate and two surrogates (well-educated, white ‘Premium Host’ Reagan and desperate Filipina Jane). It’s Jane who is at the heart of the book, lured by the promise of big money into leaving her infant daughter in her cousin Ate’s care while she performs nine months of surrogacy at Golden Oaks.
The Farm brims with the potential for an excoriation of capitalist exploitation, for dystopian darkness and sinister consequences, but it miscarries the opportunity. The novel’s central idea invites comparisons with The Handmaid’s Tale or Never Let Me Go, yet it’s nowhere near that literary league. In its timely brush with