In her impressive debut novel, The Farm, Joanne Ramos presents a compelling dystopian future in which surrogacy has evolved to its most extreme form – the bodies of women, particularly those of poor black and brown immigrant women, have been commodified. At Golden Oaks, a “gestational retreat” in upstate New York, the ultra-rich employ “hosts” to give birth to their babies. The women are chosen for certain objectifying attributes that reflect what Western capitalist societies value most: education level, family background, class, healthy able bodies, race and compliance with authority.
The narrative moves between the perspectives of its main characters: Jane, a young Filipina American single mother; Ate, her older cousin, with whom Jane lives in a crowded rooming house for migrant workers; Reagan, the upper-middle-class white American liberal who fails to understand her own privilege; and Mae, the upwardly mobile Chinese American businesswoman behind Golden Oaks.
Ramos truly comes into her own in the characterisation of these women. She knows her subjects well and writes with the confidence and deftness of an insider, being a Filipina American who lives in New York City and has a background in the finance sector. She inhabits the lives of older and younger women, white American women and women of colour, and their interactions never feel contrived or forced to ensure themes of race, class and gender are explored in this novel.
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.
At the very end of the second wave of feminism, two publications had a profound, long-lasting impact: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s seminal article on intersectionality. Thirty years later, The Farm is a nod to Atwood’s dystopian future and engages with an intersectionality made popular by millennial women, who are asserting their own forms of feminism by embracing their identities, their voices and their stories.
Bloomsbury, 325pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 25, 2019 as "Joanne Ramos, The Farm". Subscribe here.