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 Farm powerfully 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.
Imagine a room filled with fit, young women. They’re clothed in cashmere. Some are fresh from a massage, and others sip protein shakes prepared by the gourmet chefs who cater all their meals. Through the room’s large windows, you spy gardens, a pool and beyond it, a sweep of green fields and undulating hills.
Look closely, though, and you’ll notice that most of the women are brown or black-skinned. Their outfits are identical, as are the devices strapped to their wrists. Video cameras line the walls, and some of the women seem nervous, glancing frequently at the ladies in uniform strolling around the room.
This is Golden Oaks, the setting of my novel, The Farm: a luxury retreat where women – often immigrants desperate to improve their lives – are hired to carry the babies of the richest people in the world. If I wrote this essay correctly, you felt a shift in mood from its first paragraph to its second: from well-being to a niggling hint of unease.
I hope to take readers of The Farm on a similar, if larger, journey. The world of Golden Oaks is today’s world nudged forward—inches, but not miles. It is meant to be different enough, and distant enough, from our reality that readers can comfortably immerse themselves in it, yet not so far off that readers can dismiss Golden Oaks as something that “could never happen.” As the book progresses, and the pleasant trappings of Golden Oaks give way to a harsher, and more morally complicated, reality, I hope readers feel uncomfortable – and that their unease makes them question how “fictional” the book fundamentally is.
Because, in fact, almost everything in The Farm exists. Commercial surrogacy thrived in India, Nepal and Thailand until the industry was banned in recent years; surrogacy facilities still operate in the Ukraine.
Needy women (and men) the world over routinely leave their children at home and support them from afar by taking jobs with rich families in America, London, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and beyond—as some immigrant women in The Farm do.
The market encroaches on ever-more aspects of our lives: you can pay someone to organise your closets, choose your clothes or the art on your walls, sell you her eggs, carry your baby, sleep-train him and, later, grease his path to college. Is it really so unbelievable that a company might consider a luxury surrogacy farm a great business idea?
And, of course, we live in a time of glaring and widening inequality in terms of wealth, access and opportunity. It’s this inequality, and the stories we tell ourselves in America (and the West, more broadly) about inequality, that compelled me to write The Farm.
The story of American “meritocracy” — that success is a function of hard work and smarts – is one that I, a Filipina immigrant to the United States, grew up believing. It’s a story with some truth to it and enormous allure. Because if “anyone can make it”, then inequality is surmountable. You only need a dollop of savvy and the willingness to work to achieve the American Dream.
But is it true? Is it less true than it used to be? Are we comfortable with a society where a tiny fraction at the top enjoys a hugely disproportionate share of its wealth and, with that wealth, can ensure their children get every advantage starting at birth? Does meritocracy work when the playing field is so uneven? And when inequality is so wide and so pervasive – do we even see each other anymore?
These are just a few of the questions that obsessed me for decades and which fed the writing of The Farm. I don’t have the answers. In fact, I’m not interested in providing readers with “my” answers! I hope, instead, to raise hard questions by looking at the inherent inequality in one of the most intimate of relationships: between a mother and the woman (often needy, often an immigrant, often a mother herself) she hires to raise, or carry, her child. This is the heart of The Farm.