Slowly Inching into A Dystopian World

The advances in technology is undeniable. Its evolution is unstoppable; once complex functions have become simpler with each passing day. With this surge in technology, everyone is inevitably drawn in.  Its quick pace forces us to adjust our own; every minute, every second becomes relevant, lest it costs us opportunities. With these advances, all things thought impossible are becoming reality, including having a child outside of one’s body.

Jane is a half-American, half-Filipino currently living in New York City. With her child Amalia in tow, she left her cheating husband Billy and run into Ate Evelyn’s welcoming arms. Without much of a future to give her child, Jane was caught in the quagmires of helplessness. Opportunity soon came knocking on Jane’s door. Through Ate Evelyn’s fervent persuasion, Jane found herself signing up for a golden opportunity, an opportunity that can solve half of her problems.

But there are at least two stumbling blocks. One, she has to carry another woman’s child tucked in a retreat somewhere in the Hudson Valley in a facility which earned the moniker The Farm. The second challenge, and the more difficult one, is to stay calm while being away from her own child. Will she be able to withstand all the pressures coming from all corners?

“And suddenly she is exhausted. And sad. A sadness so vast she feels like she is drowning in it… Because nothing is going to change.” ~ Joanne Ramos, The Farm 

Surrogacy and surrogate parentship have been along for quite some time. For years, it sparked countless heated debates as two sides start to emerge. It is such an out-of-the box concept that it is taking society time to wrap its collective mind around. There are still a lot of negative criticism surrounding surrogacy, especially on its impact but with the way society has been shaping (as projected well in The Farm), surrogacy seems to be the way to go.

There are two schools of thoughts or views portrayed in The Farm. The first school of thought is in favor of surrogacy. It benefits couples who want to have children yet are unable to have their own due to impotence or due to some other physical maladies. This novel’s take on surrogacy is nestled on a more compassionate perspective.

The second view suggested of darker and bleaker motives. Surrogacy serves as an alternative for visionaries who are “too busy taking on the world”. Surrogacy is beneficial to couples who jets off every minute to an important meeting, who are very busy changing the world that they don’t have the time to breed their own. The period they are to spend procrastinating is eliminated, ensuring that their mission of changing the world still goes on.

The second view possesses an even darker implication where segregation surfaces. Those who are servile, those who are motivated by need are the ones who are usually exploited, ending with the unsavory job of being the “hosts”. The way the novel dissolved into a social commentary is one of the novel’s lesser aspects. The motivation for money and the resultant blatant exploitation because of this is a horrific reality we all live through. Ramos does try to reverse it by a bit when she inserted Reagan, a rich-kid do-gooder. In the end, she learns the hypocrisy that belies the perceived goodness.

“The problem is that she is too pretty. When you are too pretty, the other parts of you do not become strong.” ~ Joanne Ramos, The Farm 

With a highly debated subject as its centrifugal point, the novel inevitably regressed into moral issues. It didn’t prejudice towards one side of the spectrum, rather, The Farm gave a justifiable peek of the two sides of this scientific breakthrough, enough to give the readers an opportunity to form their own opinion thereof.

One of the novel’s positive aspects is its unbiased portrayal of the Filipinos, of the Philippines and of Filipino culture. It painted a picture of the struggles of the Philippines and its people, both within and outside of the country. There was a subtle understone that success will find one if he leaves his/her country. It steeped on to the Filipino stereotype that at times, it did become suffocating rather than poignant. The phenomenal “Filipino pride” mantra is an unwavering characteristic.

For all its regressions towards the darker side of Filipino society, The Farm displayed one of the Filipino’s most inimitable qualities – their perpetual and unequaled love for family. Everyone’s actions are motivated by this. However, this can also lead to a skewed personal view as it blurs one’s vision. It misleads most into believing that their actions, whether right or wrong, is rationalized by their love for their family. It is an unnerving depiction of how far an OFW will go for her family.

But then again, who can blame a parent for doing what she had to do? Who can blame an aged mother for trading off her countrywomen for a couple of commission? Who can blame an old woman for yearning to earn a US citizenship? It becomes doubly hard to judge when love for one’s family is used motivations for one’s actions as there is no parent who doesn’t love his/her children. These motivations were shown in stark dichotomy by Ramos.

“You should not raise them to be too tender, like little lambs. Small lambs, soft lambs—they make the best meat; they are always devoured.” ~ Joanne Ramos, The Farm

The Farm had a myriad of positive aspects going for it. However, it did fail on some crucial aspects that weighed down on its impact. The narrative took a painstakingly slow pace to develop. It is excusable but the way the story concluded leaves a bitter after taste after being dragged 300-pages long. Ramos also left some seminal questions unresolved. The ending was ephemeral and a tad unrealistic.

Through every complicated curve, Ramos displayed an intimate understanding of surrogacy and its deeper implications. Her insight into motherhood is also commendable and both translated well into the narrative. However, it was still lacking, leaving readers wanting for more. Essentially, despite the refreshing premise, the execution undermined its better facets. It didn’t flow as seamlessly as one would want it to.

P.S. In spite of what most says, The Farm doesn’t fall into the category of a dystopian fiction like The Handmaid’s Tale. Most of the things depicted are already happening, making it more contemporary rather than futuristic.

Rating:

65%

When I first heard of The Farm earlier this year, I instantly got excited because of the premise and the fact that it was written by a Filipina author. I wouldn’t say that I was entirely disappointed because in spite of everything, the novel does have bright spots. Moreover, surrogacy is not talked about enough in my opinion. Rather, it is rare encountering a book about surrogacy. It was an interesting debut work to say the least. I just wish that it didn’t descend into the social commentaries and the abject poverty that seem to characterize what modern Filipino literature is about.

Book Specs

Author: Joanne Ramos
Publisher:
Random House
Publishing Date: 2019
Number of Pages: 321 pages
Genre: Fiction, Domestic Fiction

Synopsis

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages – and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here – more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks – or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing free she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

About the Author

square(Photo by Princeton Alumni Weekly) Joanne Ramos was bornin the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was six. Ramos graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University. After working in investment banking and private-equity investing for several years, she became a staff writer at The Economist.

 The Farm (2019) is Ramos’ first published novel. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and three children.