Read a Book by an Immigrant Author is one of our annual reading challenge's trickier categories this year; there's no easy way to search for authors' identities. Once I started digging, however, I found lots and lots of choices for this category, both fiction and nonfiction. I settled on The Farm by Joanne Ramos. Ramos moved from the Philippines to Wisconsin when she was six, and later went to Princeton and worked in finance before becoming a writer. Her life experience clearly shaped The Farm, a social novel that explores questions of wealth, income inequality, immigration, race, and power.
The Farm follows four very different women as their lives intersect at Golden Oaks, a luxury retreat where ultra-rich clients pay young women with limited means to carry surrogate pregnancies. The "hosts," as they're called, have all their needs provided for, but they're also subject to intense monitoring and given almost no access to the outside world. At the heart of The Farm is Jane, a Filipina immigrant who takes a job as a host at Golden Oaks in hopes of providing a better life for her infant daughter. The book also follows Jane's older cousin Ate, a baby nurse who sends most of her earnings back to her adult children in the Philippines; Regan, a white host who longs for financial independence from her overbearing father; and Mae, the CEO of Golden Oaks who faces intense pressure to meet the demands of Golden Oaks' wealthy clients.
All four of the women are flawed characters who make decisions both good and bad, and although they're not always likable, Ramos does an excellent job of making their actions understandable. Jane is alternately meek and impetuous but driven out of love for her daughter; Mae often is manipulative and self-serving but she also goes out of her way to help Jane. Ramos' ability to raise complicated questions and resist providing easy answers made The Farm a thought-provoking read, and one that would make excellent book group fodder.
For more books by authors who are immigrants, check out these lists: