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Publisher's Summary

Sanora Babb' s long-hidden novel Whose Names Are Unknown tells an intimate story of the High Plains farmers who fled drought dust storms during the Great Depression. Written with empathy for the farmers' plight, this powerful narrative is based upon the author' s firsthand experience.

This clear-eyed and unsentimental story centers on the fictional Dunne family as they struggle to survive and endure while never losing faith in themselves. In the Oklahoma Panhandle, Milt, Julia, their two little girls, and Milt' s father, Konkie, share a life of cramped circumstances in a one-room dugout with never enough to eat.

Yet buried in the drudgery of their everyday life are aspirations, failed dreams, and fleeting moments of hope. The land is their dream. The Duanne family and the farmers around them fight desperately for the land they love, but the droughts of the thirties force them to abandon their fields. When they join the exodus to the irrigated valleys of California, they discover not the promised land, but an abusive labor system arrayed against destitute immigrants.

The system labels all farmers like them as worthless " Okies" and earmarks them for beatings and worse when hardworking men and women, such as Milt and Julia, object to wages so low they can' t possibly feed their children.

The informal communal relations these dryland farmers knew on the High Plains gradually coalesce into a shared determination to resist. Realizing that a unified community is their best hope for survival, the Dunnes join with their fellow workers and begin the struggle to improve migrant working conditions through democratic organization and collective protest.

©2004 Sanora Babb (P)2014 Recorded Books

Critic Reviews

"Alyssa Bresnahan grabs attention and never releases it throughout Sanora Babb's deeply felt and deeply human novel.... Bresnahan elicits every nuance from Babb's seemingly simple dialogue while at the same time finding the precise voice and tempo for each of the many remarkable characters. Babb's first-class novel is given a first-class performance." (AudioFile)

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  • 30-01-20

The True American Dustbowl Novel

Babb crafted a story that I consider the true American dustbowl novel. She wrote this story after witnessing the plight of many Americans who had to migrate to California in the 1930's, due to the natural disaster known as The Dustbowl. These migrants, referred to as "Oakies" (a derogatory term) faced low wages, poor living conditions, backbreaking work, and discrimination in such a way toward caucasians as has not been seen since the days of the great wave of Irish immigration during the Potato Famine.
Whose Names are Unknown is the story of the Dunns, of their attempts to toil the earth in a virtual desert, their travels to California, and their subsequent arrival and struggle to survive even in a place teeming with prosperity and food. All throughout their journey, they deal with hunger and poverty, and do their best to keep their dignity even at their most impoverished. It is compelling from beginning to end, and brought to life by excellent narration.
Babb wrote this in the 30's, before Grapes of Wrath, but Steinbeck managed to get his novel published first. She was told to wait, as her publishers did not want to saturate the market with "Dustbowl stories." She would wait decades, and what a pity, because this novel is excellent.

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  • Russell Bernard
  • 12-02-17

O, how we judged the victims of the dust bowl.

This book is a masterpiece of americana that should not be missed.. the dailey struggles of the Dunn family and the struggles of so many from this part of the country. It is easy to say that they brought this upon themselves, but I disagree this could be the story of any of us given the right circumstances. I was moved by the stories of desperation and hope this book shared. The writing was beautiful; in spots and very moving.

You also might enjoy the Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. I am also listening to my Antonia by Willa Cather. I have not listened to Grapes of Wrath yet maybe in the future.

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  • Linda M. Terry
  • 25-06-21

Real life

This book pulls no punches. It tells of the real
Life of real people whose names no one knows. Much like my own family in Oklahoma. Not living in the dust bowl area still scratching out a living from the ground, wearing feed sack dresses and if we didn’t grow it we didn’t eat it. Never hungry but eating gravy, biscuits and red beans everyday . It was just ok ! We made it and I’m am who I am
Today probably because of it.

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  • trudi williams
  • 24-10-17

enlightenment

I have read "Grapes of Wrath". I love the writings of John Steinbeck. This novel is more human than the above.