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Whose Names Are Unknown: A Novel by [Babb, Sanora]
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4.4 out of 5 stars 172 customer reviews

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Length: 238 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Originally written and slated for publication in 1939, this long-forgotten masterpiece was shelved by Random House when The Grapes of Wrath met with wide acclaim. In the belief that Steinbeck already adequately explored the subject matter, Babb's lyrical novel about a farm family's relentless struggle to survive in both Depression-era Oklahoma and in the California migrant labor camps gathered dust for decades.^B Rescued from obscurity by the University of Oklahoma Press, the members of the poor but proud Dunne family and their circle of equally determined friends provide another legitimate glimpse into life on the dust-plagued prairies of the Southwest and in the fertile, but bitterly disappointing, orchards and vineyards of the so-called promised land. Babb, a native of Oklahoma's arid panhandle and a volunteer with the Farm Security Administration in Depression-era California, brings an insider's knowledge and immediacy to this authentically compelling narrative. A slightly less political, more female-oriented, companion piece to^B The Grapes of Wrath. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“The publication of Whose Names Are Unknown rights a decades-old literary wrong.” –The Salt Lake Tribune

Babb puts a human face on the “Okies” and others who faced economic and social disaster, yet managed to retain their humanness, faith, and inner dignity. Is it better that Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath? I think so, but you be the judge” –Mike Nobles, Tulsa World

“As vibrant and timely today as when it was begun in the migrant camps of California, Sanora Babb’s first novel depicts the pride, suffering, and resilience of uprooted Anglo farmers who confront economic and ecological disaster. Resisting forces within society that devalue and marginalize them, the declassed refugees work together to form enduring communities.” –Douglas Wixson, author of Worker-Writer in America: Jack Conroy and the Tradition of Midwestern Literary Radicalism, 1898-1869

"Sanora Babb's Whose Names Are Unknown has enjoyed an underground reputation for many years among those scholars who have known of its existence. Babb is a skillful artist who identified wholeheartedly with the ordeal of the dispossessed during the 1930s. The recovery of her novel is a miraculous gift that will play an important part in future reconsiderations of mid-century U.S. literature." –Alan M. Wald, author of Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Literary Left

Product Details

  • File Size: 586 KB
  • Print Length: 238 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press (November 20, 2012)
  • Publication Date: November 20, 2012
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #211,581 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Schiff on April 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Sanora and her husband the Oscar winning cinematographer James Wong Howe were long time friends of my family. It was a friendship I continued after my parents passing. We were at Sanora's home a number of years ago talking about her remembrances of a long life so well lived and she happened to mention that she had once written about migrant workers. I asked her what had happened and she explained Bennett Cerf nad told her that he felt that ther was not room for two novels on the same subject matter at the same time. She also remarked that she had spent an extensive period ( I don't remember how long she said but I seem to recall 9+ months)living with these workers where Steinbeck ahd only spent a short period (6 weeks?) of research prior to penning Grapes of Wrath.
I asked her what had happened to the manuscript... and she said she had not even thought of it for 60+ years. I told her that I felt that it was her duty to see that the book would finally be published. After that vist I would call her every few weeks to egg her on until one day she told me that she had finally dug it out and began polishing it up. Sanora was at that time suffering from the results of cancer surgery and was confined to living on the ground floor of her long-time Hollywood home. Even in her 90's she was sharper than most people I had ever known. She never failed to send me an autographed copy of her latest collections of poems or short stories.. when I last spoke to her just prior to her passing she told me with great excitment that the book had finally been finished and was about to be published. A fitting capstone to such a remarkable life.

It is indeed a masterpiece... and ironically the only book she ever published that I never was given an autographed copy of.

She was one of the most wonderful , brilliant and spiritual individuals I have ever known and I, as were all that knew her, am honored that she was my friend.
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Format: Hardcover
"To John Doe and Mary Doe whose True Names are Unknown."
-Legal Eviction Notice, 1930s
This is one of the best novels I have ever read about Oklahoma Panhandle farmers during the 1930s. I think is is as good as, perhaps better than, The Grapes of Wrath. I realize that is a strong statement coming from a lowly reviewer but I truly believe it to be that good.
The history of the author and the story of why it has taken sixty-five years for the book to be published are remarkable. Babb was born in 1907 in Oklahoma Territory. She spent her early childhood moving from place to place with her family and worked as a printer's devil, a small town reporter, a farm magazine writer, and a rural schoolteacher. In 1929, at the age of twenty-two, she moved to Los Angeles to become an AP reporter. In 1938 she began work as a volunteer for the Farm Security Administration in the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys. She assisted in organizing casmps for the disposed farmers that streamed into the area; many from cities and towns near the Oklahoma Panhandle where she grew up. She kept a diary of her experiences observing and assisting "...the farmers who were done dirty" and ultimately prepared a manuscript that was to become this novel. In 1939 she sent four manuscript chapters to Random House publishers. The cofounder of Random House, Bennett Cerf, read the chapters and sent Babb a check and an offer to come to New York to complete the novel. She accepted and completed the book, which Cerf intended to publish. However, before it was ready for publication The Grapes of Wrath was published and the rest is history.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As we learn in the Lawrence Rodgers' concise and articulate foreword to "Whose Names Are Unknown," author Sanora Babb had the uniquely unfortunate circumstance of completing her masterwork at the time of the publication of John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." Her once enthusiastic editor, Bennett Cerf, noting the similarities between the two books, shelved the printing of Babb's novel, hypothesizing that the American public could not tolerate two novels treating similar, if not identical, characters, conflicts and themes. For nearly seventy years, "Whose Names Are Unknown" lay dormant, invisible, unacknowledged and inaccessible. Thankfully, the University of Oklahoma Press has addressed this absence, and both the novel and its author may now take their respective places as giants in American literature.

"Whose Names Are Unknown" is a masterpiece. It is a soaring indictment of economic injustice just as it eloquent extols of the decency and dignity of the thousands of displaced farmers, whose lives blew away in the ferocious dust storms of the Great Depression. The novel has trenchant social commentaries, a gripping plot and characters who are painfully believable. Babb evokes the despair of economic misery and the pain of Americans becoming pariahs in their own land. "Whose Names Are Unknown" was written from the crucible of Babb's own experiences; it has a spare authenticity that "The Grapes of Wrath" does not capture. Where Steinbeck writes with great compassion, Babb writes with empathy. Both side with the dispossessed, and each deserves the widest reading audience.

The Dunne family shoulders the economic and psychological burdens of the Great Depression.
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