Jay Keys's Reviews > Whose Names Are Unknown: A Novel

Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb
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Jul 22, 07


This book was written in 1938 by Sanora Babb, a native Oklahoman (actually born in 1907 just before Indian Territory achieved statehood). This novel predates Steinbeck's famous The Grapes of Wrath, but Random House chose to shelve this book at the time of publication of Steinbeck's novel (he had more name appeal) because they felt that the market was not large enough to support two novels dealing with the same subject matter.

Ms. Babb kept the manuscript and it was published in 2004 by the University of Oklahoma Press. She died in 2005.

The novel chronicles the death of a dust bowl community, and the uprooting of its citizens to California. Their destination offers the migrants much more harsh reception than they had prepared for. To the Californians, these new arrivals are "dirty Okies". The workers are not allowed to organize, are prevented from voting (in a clever scheme in which farm owners cooperate by letting go migrants just before their six month residency requirement is met).

The move to California is depicted only in the last 60 pages or so. The bulk of the novel deals with crop failure and people mortgaging their homes and farms to keep up with need in Oklahoma.
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