The Farm is a story about high-end surrogacy – who runs it, who uses it, and who provides it. But it is also so much more than that. It is a meaningful examination of womanhood and all the ways women inadvertently hurt each other, when all we are trying to do is help. It is quietly heartbreaking, yet non-judgemental.
The central character is Jane – an immigrant from the Philippines who lives with her fellow immigrants in a shared dormitory with her baby. Jane progresses from aged care assistant, to baby nurse, to surrogate over the course of the book. Her commercially-savvy elderly cousin Ate lines up the surrogacy gig for Jane after she makes a horribly cringe-worthy mistake as a baby nurse and is fired. While Jane contemplates this career change, Ate further assists by offering to care for Jane’s infant. Jane then willingly enters the world of surrogacy for the uber wealthy, for the sake of giving her daughter a better start in life.
Much of the novel takes place at Golden Oaks, the tricked-out, cashmere coddled private estate in upstate New York where the ‘hosts’ (surrogates) must stay. Hosts are given healthy meals, exercise classes, utero-music devices, and free room and board. In return, they give up their lives for nine months and rent out the uteruses. Their every move is tracked via their ‘wellness bands’ and their faceless clients are given frequent updates on the condition and contents of their wombs. The hosts are handsomely rewarded for their time at Golden Oaks, which pays significantly higher for a successful pregnancy that ends in a ‘delivery bonus’ that could set up the host for life (financially, at least).
With pregnancy comes both fierceness and fragility, and the pregnant characters of The Farm (and those who enable them) display these quantities in droves. One white privileged host (whose race and class is a rarity at Golden Oaks) is searching for meaning by becoming a surrogate. Jane’s disconnection from her daughter and her heritage during her time at Golden Oaks causes her to slowly unravel. Ate’s sacrifices for her own family are revealed. The ambitious woman who runs the facility is featured as neither a demon nor a saint, as her motivations are complex and nuanced. None of the characters in The Farm are ‘evil’ or ‘bad’, but they still hurt each other frequently and profoundly. There are only two male characters in the book, and neither plays a significant role. This is first and foremost a story for women, written by a woman, and that shows.
The Farm is not filled with suspense. You won’t be on the edge of your seat, frantically turning pages and forcefully stopping your eyes from reading ahead. Rather, the story takes its time to contemplate womanhood, race, and class. Sisterhood is examined from many angles and ethical issues galore are held up to the light for examination. I felt like the author respected me enough to merely highlight issues rather than cram biting commentary and ethical analysis down my throat. I was fascinated by the problematic and noble aspects of surrogacy contained in this book – particularly as an Australian, where commercial surrogacy is illegal.
Overall: 4 mandatory green smoothies out of 5.