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Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Farm (2019) by Joanne Ramos

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Novelist and journalist Joanne Ramos, author of The Farm.
Book Review
The Farm (2019)
by Joanne Ramos

   One of the interesting aspects of the entertainment-industrial complex is watching the process by which a debut novel by a previously unknown author is introduced to the critical and general public.  Joanne Ramos is a very interesting example of this process, being with her pedigree: Daughter of Filipino immigrants, raised in Wisconsin, educated at Princeton, worked on Wall Street, became a journalist, has a position at the Economist.   Next you've got the announced pre publication value a "six figure" sale for the publication rights.

  Then you've got the pre-publication role out, gathering up the book jacket quotes, early reviews and whatever public appearances a multi national publishing corporation can arrange for a first time author with no pre-existing celebrity.   I listened to The Farm Audiobook after fully witnessing that process for Ramos and her debut novel, about a shadowy, but very well-heeled surrogacy operation running in upstate New York.  The narrators include Jane, a failed Filipino-immigrant baby nurse, looking for a way to secure a future for her father-less daughter;  Ake, the Grandmotherly cousin of Jane who plays a vital role in the local (Manhattan) immigrant community, connecting new arrivals with families needing child care solutions;  Mae, the half-white, half-Chinese corporate executive, running the business for her billionaire boss; and Raegan, the privileged, white fellow "host" who becomes central to the narrative.

   There is a definite "thriller" feel to the later parts of the plot that preclude any kind of detailed description.  I would also dissent for the more hyperbolic prose which compares The Farm to The Handmaid's Tale and other works of feminist-dystopian fiction.   Whether situations such as those described by The Farm actually exist in America, they certainly exist in other parts of the world.  The issues around surrogacy are incredibly complex, but turning it into a market transaction takes away much of that complexity.  If the host and the client agree on the terms of the transaction, that's great.  If the host fails to understand the full meaning of the contract because of her status as a non-high school graduating immigrant to America, that's not great, but hardly unusual in this (or other) countries.

  I didn't love The Farm, but I liked it.  Ramos lands halfway between writing a standard-issue thriller type book and something more complicated.  I guess the year end Awards will provide the first verdict.  It doesn't look like it's been a huge sales success- it looks like the press exceeded the sales, but a run on the year end prize lists/best of lists would likely elevate those numbers.

  The Farm is a great Audiobook- another example where the accents make all the difference.  I don't think I could have put on the female, Filipino accent which describes the speech of several of the main characters in my own head, they would, at best, not sound like Filipina's.

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