How much would you sacrifice to achieve the American Dream? The Farm review and Q & A with author, Joanna Ramos.

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Review of The Farm and Q & A with Joanne Ramos

What could be better than living on sprawling beautiful property in the country, healthy food being served to you, fresh air and exercise, massages and pampering, and a generous, life changing paycheck, while all your needs are being met?  The catch…you must stay on the premises and be separated from your family and friends for nine months while you are pregnant with a baby that doesn’t belong to you.

In this stunning debut novel, The Farm, female-centric and slightly dystopian (will be appealing to fans of  The Handmaid’s Tale), author Joanne Ramos creates Golden Oaks, a secluded, country club atmosphere in Hudson Valley, NY where mostly foreign women are bearing children for elite clients who are not able to get pregnant or who choose not to.

Jane, a young, single Filipina mom with an infant, no husband and no secure place to live, decides to leave her own baby with her cousin, Ate, and take a job at Golden Oaks, where she will make enough money to better her life. She is chosen to be a Host, living in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where her only job is to rest and keep the baby inside her healthy.  Nine months is a long time to be separated from your family and as time goes on, Jane starts to question the value of that big paycheck versus her sacrifices associated with being away. She is worried about her young daughter and her cousin, and is unsure the money alone is an adequate tradeoff for the painful separation and the missing of milestones.

Joanne Ramos takes a look at class status; what poor women will give up to ultimately improve their lives, and what wealthy women give up to avoid inconvenience. How much is worth sacrificing for the American Dream? This is a thought provoking, emotionally charged novel I highly recommend!  Available on Amazon Today.

The Farm is part of the Bedside Reading program where books are placed on the nightstand at 5 star, luxury and boutique hotels.

Goodreads Summary

Q & A With Joanne Ramos

Q: How did you come up with the idea for a novel centered on a surrogacy farm and do you know anyone that ever worked at one?

A.  When I finally dared to commit to writing a book, a childhood dream I’d deferred for decades, I was already forty. Certain ideas had obsessed me for much of my life but finding a way into them—finding the right story to contain them and, also, allow them room to breathe—was difficult. I spent well over a year writing short stories, flash-fiction pieces and “first chapters” of stillborn novels. It was an exercise in persistence and, also, faith. Then one day, when reading my husband’s Wall Street Journal, I happened upon a snippet of an article about a surrogacy facility in India. The what ifs began swirling in my mind almost immediately, and The Farm began to take shape.   

Q: In this country do you see Filipina women experiencing economic and social challenges and in general struggling more than white women?  And if so, in what way?

A.  I don’t think you can really generalize in this way. I know Filipinas who struggle and those who lead cushy lives, and the same goes for white women. I think new immigrants to this country—and they come in all races and colors—do face challenges that ensconced Americans do not. I think domestic workers occupy a strange netherworld where they work in the intimacy of someone’s home and are often hailed as “part of the family”—but of course, they aren’t. That’s a difficult line to balance every day, and by and large, domestic workers don’t enjoy the protections that other workers in this country do. And of course, racism exists—here and everywhere.

Q: In The Farm we see women of different social classes and even in the same class using each other to get ahead. With the #MeToo movement, it generally seems as if most women are outwardly supporting all women across dividing lines.  Do you think the situation in your novel is closer to reality?  Do you believe women stand by their children first, then other women second? 

A.  Women, like men, have conflicting needs, desires and loyalties which they try their best to balance. Sometimes they need to compromise; some compromises are betrayals, depending on which side you sit on. Even within the #MeToo movement you see divisions—women who feel #MeToo has gone too far, women who feel it has not gone far enough, women who can relate and women who can’t, women who are changing their minds because of it.

Q: The influence men have on the women in The Farm seems nonexistent.  Why did you decide not to include men in the storyline? 

A.  I didn’t exclude men from The Farm consciously. The book started with Jane and Ate. Their voices came first. All the caregivers I happen to know well are women, and almost all of them are raising their children on their own—the fathers are absent. So, in this way, Jane and Ate’s stories reflect the reality I know. Of course, the Hosts are women, and it made sense to me that the person running Golden Oaks would be a woman. The decision was not one made “on-high”, but an organic development.

Q: Female inequality is a subject that is underlying throughout your novel. But the women considered to be the lowest on the totem pole also have the greatest power, the ability to bear a child.  You could have gone a different way in the novel, giving the pregnant women the upper hand.  Why choose to create a world that diminishes the unique and valuable aspect of womanhood?

A.  I don’t think that motherhood or pregnancy is diminished in The Farm at all! In fact, they are central to the book. The reality is, though, that the power dynamics of the world are not built around motherhood and pregnancy. In fact, for most of history, and in many parts of the world still, the opposite is true.

Q: How long did it take you to write this novel?  

A.  If you count the year and a half when I wrote in the dark, trying unsuccessfully to find a way “into” the themes that mattered to me, it took around five years. Once I came upon the idea of setting the action in a luxury surrogacy facility, the book took three and a half years to write and edit.

Q: What are you working on now?

A.  I have some seedlings of ideas for a second book, but nothing coherent enough to discuss.

Q: What are the last three great books you read and what is on your night stand now?

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

Essential Essays, Adrienne Rich

Hold Still, Sally Mann

On my nightstand: Forest Dark, Nicole Krauss; Citizen: an American Lyric, Claudia Rankine; The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli; Saltwater, Jessica Andrews

More information about surrogacy below.

Celebrities who have used surrogacy to grow their family

Surrogacy Farms in India

Surrogacy Farms in Ukraine

About the Author:

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Joanne Ramos was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was six.  She graduated with a BA from Princeton University.  After working in investment banking and private-equity investing for several years, she wrote for The Economist as a staff writer.  She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.  The Farm is her first novel.

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

 

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My Review:

Four children from a Jewish family on the lower east side of Manhattan visit a psychic in the summer of 1969 and are told the date they will die.  Does this information, this prediction, change the way they choose to live?  That question is left unanswered in The Immortalists, as we follow each of the siblings’ lives.   Author Chloe Benjamin provides us with a mesmerizing story of these rich characters, and their choices about how to live.  Simon, the youngest brother, moves to California to live his truth and gets caught up in the reckless ’80s sexual revolution.  His journey out west begins with his sister Klara, who is irresponsible in many ways and chooses to become a magician.  Daniel, the oldest brother is conflicted at work; he is a doctor in the army and must give clearance to young men, less fortunate than he. to serve in the military.  And Vanya is involved in anti-aging research, as she reduces caloric intake of primates to extend their lives.  We witness the strengthening and deterioration of relationships and we hope things will turn out ok, but do they?  Throughout the book I couldn’t help but question if the characters’ choices were made because of the knowledge they received regarding their death.

Another question to think about is:  quality or quantity…do you want to live a long time or live well during the time you have?  Would you want to know the date of your own death?

Some of what Chloe Benjamin writes about is based on her own knowledge and experiences; she grew up in California in the 80s, with a gay parent, a Jewish parent, and immigrant grandparents.  She was a ballet dancer and her mother was an actor…all of which influenced the setting and characters.  She also did massive research to learn about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military, primate research, magicians and magic.  The narrative was rich with information and I really enjoyed the format, each section written about a different character.

The Immortalists, for me, was a lesson about embracing life and trying not to worry about the unknown.  It is a balance, like science and religion, to navigate our lives by making choices based on what we know to be true and what we believe is true.  I highly recommend this book!

As seen on Goodreads:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

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About the Author:

Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE IMMORTALISTS, a New York Times Bestseller, #1 Indie Next Pick for January 2018, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, #1 Library Reads pick, and Amazon Best Book of the Month.

Her first novel, THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS (Atria, 2014), received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize.

Her novels have been translated into over twenty-three languages. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.

Nonfiction recommendations for you!

It’s the doldrums of winter and you may have a vacation planned or you may be snowed in, but either way, use any extra time to catch up on your reading, expand your knowledge base, understand others’ perspectives and enjoy a little nonfiction. Here are some wonderful books not to be missed.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
As stated in Goodreads:
From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

 

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
As stated in Goodreads:
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

 

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
As stated in Goodreads:
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

 

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Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World by Seth Siegel
As stated in Goodreads:
As every day brings urgent reports of growing water shortages around the world, there is no time to lose in the search for solutions.
Beautifully written, Let There Be Water is and inspiring account of the vision and sacrifice by a nation and people that have long made water security a top priority. Despite scant natural water resources, a rapidly growing population and economy, and often hostile neighbors, Israel has consistently jumped ahead of the water innovation-curve to assure a dynamic, vital future for itself. Every town, every country, and every reader can benefit from learning what Israel did to overcome daunting challenges and transform itself from a parched land into a water superpower.

If you want to learn more about how you can help with the water crisis check out Innovation Africa, a worthy organization that is making a difference.

 

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Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
As Stated in Goodreads:
Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.