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Whose Names Are Unknown

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  864 Ratings  ·  160 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published February 13th 2006 by University of Oklahoma Press (first published January 1st 2004)
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Diane S ☔
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
1930's, Oklahoma panhandle and the horrifying Dust Bowl, dust that coated everything. The food, the crops, lung diseases, animals dead or dying and finally killing the hopes of many of these tough, hardworking people. Most left their farms of many years, heading to the migrant camps in the West. I have read non fiction books, seen the PBS documentary but for me this book made a huge impact.

I think it was because we get to know some of these families. Their pride, their hopes, just trying to get
Oct 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Please, first read the book description.

Having read that, you know that this is a book of historical fiction about life in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Depression and the ecological disaster of the Dust Bowl Era. You will feel you are choking from the dirt during the wind storms. You are starving. You are being thrown from your land by the banks and big businesses. What do you do? The Dunne family joined the stream of other migrant workers traveling westward to the promised land of Califor
Roberta Brown
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I put this book on "Hold" through The Library Network after watching The Dust Bowl documentary on PBS last year; this book finally arrived a few weeks ago, just in time for PBS to rerun the documentary.
The story behind this book: Random House editor Bennett Cerf was going to publish this work until John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath beat him to the punch, and Babb's book was considered to be "a sad anticlimax."
I have read The Grapes of Wrath; I have found "whose names are unknown" to be a bet
Kristi Thielen
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Too bad you can't award more than five stars.

Sanora Babb's book is about Oklahomans who hung on to their farms though most of the Dust Bowl years, then walked away from their land and pressed on to California in hopes of a better life. I'll tell no more of the plot than that, because I can't possibly do justice to her magnificent prose.

Babb sent the manuscript to a New York publisher who at first was agreeable to publishing the book -then turned her down when the better known John Steinbeck br
Sep 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dust-bowl
An amazing historical novel about the Dust Bowl era and the families who exhibited tenacious courage, strength, fortitude, and commendable resilience and faith in dire times. Farming families, covered in dust, drenched in sweat and gritty tears, leaving homesteads and all that's familiar. Migrating...pressing ever onward, seeking brighter days for their children, where drought, dust, disease, and starvation won't consume them.

Babb's, "Whose Names Are Unknown" surpasses Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wr
Chris Blocker
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
You may already know the story of Whose Names Are Unknown and its path to publication. If so, you may wish to skip the next paragraph. I'm including it because I found it fascinating. Truly, it's the primary reason I picked this novel up.

In the 1930s, author Sanora Babb was working as a volunteer for the Farm Security Administration in California. She helped in the camps for displaced farmers. Under the recommendation of Tom Collins, the same Collins who served as the primary source for The Grap
Dec 25, 2006 rated it it was amazing
Ironically this book was almost unknown. In 1939 editor Bennett Cerf was finalizing publication plans for it, when John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath captured national interest. Cerf mistakenly judged that Steinbeck's novel had covered the subject and shelved the manuscript. Unknown for 30 years except for an underground network of scholars, Sanora Babb's work now provides a welcome companion to Steinbeck's classic e ...more
Sandy (CA)
Jul 30, 2015 marked it as abandoned
I will not rate this book since I decided (reluctantly) not to finish it. That is not the fault of the author. This book is a masterpiece, slated for publication in 1938 and cancelled because it was too similar to a book by John Steinbeck which had just hit the big time. It was eventually published in 2008.

People prefer many different experiences in the stories they read. I had expected that this would be my kind of story. Being the grandchild of pioneers who lived through the "dust bowl" years
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent account of the Dust Bowl and the Okies in California. Written around the same time as The Grapes of Wrath, the author unfortunately could not get it published after Steinbeck's novel came out.

I think this book is much better written than Steinbeck's classic. It comes out as more immediate and authentic to me. The characters are more real.

Everyone should read this book and The Grapes of Wrath. Especially today. Especially Tea Party and Conservatives. People need to realize
Ken Hada
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Amazing story here, not the plot, but about the writing of the book. Sanora Babb, the author, had a contract with a NY publisher, but the publisher reneged the contract when Grapes of Wrath came out, they didn't think two dustbowl novels could coexist. 60 years later OU press brought Whose names are Unknown to print! It is a sparse, very well told novel by an Oklahoma lady who actually lived the dustbowl. In fact, there is reason to believe that Steinbeck got some of his information from Babb an ...more
Rita Welty Bourke
Dec 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This novel tells the story of the Dunne family, their struggle to survive the drought and dust storms of the 1930s, and their exodus to California.

Like thousands before them, the Dunnes accepted the government’s offer of 320 acres on condition that they “prove up” the land. Somehow they must earn enough money to survive for five years, build some kind of domicile, and improve the land. How could they do that in a place where droughts were common and winds nearly constant? The answer was to grow
Jun 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Because the subject matter and descriptions are so stark and the circumstances so dire, many give this a 4 or 5 star. I stretched to give it a 3 for the characters of Milt, Myra, Mrs. Starwood. I absolutely understand why The Grapes of Wrath overshadowed it. This reads like a strident, exaggerated, nearly cartoonish in tragedy, radical politico proof copy. Not to say that these horrific failures and suffering did not happen. It's just the language of the portrayal. To me it is also choppy in its ...more
Oct 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: emotional
I devoured it in two days – would have been one if I hadn’t stopped to do homework. I first heard about Babb's book from Ken Burns’ documentary The Dust Bowl. I have always been fascinated by The Depression, and ever since I read The Grapes of Wrath in 2007 (at the height of the foreclosure crisis, just as it was beginning to spill into the rest of the economy), it pulls at my mind and heart continuously. The images of the unfeeling machinery of the banks that repossessed the farmers’ livelihood ...more
Kate Woods Walker
Apr 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Sanora Babb's Whose Names Are Unknown suffers somewhat from its strident tone and perhaps a bit too-cartoonish characters, and certainly suffers in comparison to The Grapes of Wrath, a much-superior literary work. But the book itself--with its history of acceptance-then-rejection--serves as a scrappy, uplifting tale of ultimate victory that its own plot lacks.

With many story elements in common with Steinbeck's masterpiece, Babb's tale of displaced Okies is notable for its spare prose style and a
Natalie Richards
Jan 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this story about the high-plains farmers in 1930s Oklahoma. Apparently the author wrote this book at the time of "Grapes of Wrath" being released and this book was left behind. I have not read John Steinbeck`s book so cannot compare these two but I feel that "Whose Names Are Unknown" movingly tells the stories of these farmers and their families hard lives very well. ...more
Elena Sala
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, WHOSE NAMES ARE UNKNOWN, gets its title from a legal eviction notice of the farm families during the Great Depression.

The story focuses on the Dunne family -Julia, Milt and their two young daughters -and a small community of farmers. It is the story of their struggles to survive in the Oaklahoma Panhandle and later, the even worse conditions of life they endured as farm workers in the California valleys after they left their miserable farm due to the dust storm
Ticklish Owl
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wishlist-read
Set in the 1930s during the Great Depression, Whose Names Are Unknown leads the Dunne family from their Dustbowl stricken farm to the migrant camps of California.

The beginning of Whose Names Are Unknown closely mirrors Babb's memoir, An Owl on Every Post. It's evident that many of the characters are based on Babb's family and childhood friends. Although, Whose Names Are Unknown is much more than a fictionalized account of Babb's early life.

It's a shame Whose Names Are Unknown was held back from
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
GREAT book group discussion on this one! I read the whole thing in one sitting which was extra delicious and immersive.
Jay Keys
Jul 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 Univer
Oct 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Wow! A great read - it could easily be one of my favorite short novels. The author lived through the dust bowl and succeeds at putting you directly into the homes and lives of those who lived through it. I found this astoundingly relateable to the characters even though I have not experienced the poverty they did. I enjoyed this more than the grapes of wrath. I highly recommend it. It was the author's first written work, but was not published until some 80 years later. I wish it had been publish ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book -- it surpasses Grapes of Wrath for a number of reasons: the characters are more concentrated in their interactions with each other, and thus more powerful; the diary entries add a poignancy that is almost unbearable; and the stories of the children and the young people who refuse to see their future strangled on dust are galvanizing. Admittedly, the writer is well-grounded in what were labeled at the time as "leftist" causes, but today would be firmly Democratic -- howe ...more
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very similar plot to Grapes of Wrath, and there is some speculation that Steinbeck read the field reports she sent to a mutual friend. I liked this version of the Okie story better than Grapes of Wrath. Both authors are gifted writers, but Steinbeck's story has quite a bit of melodrama which I think detracts from the daily plight of the families which I believe is the heart of the issue. Also, Steinbeck's choice to write his characters' dialogue in an uneducated "dialect" is distracting when rea ...more
Dec 31, 2014 rated it liked it
This was a good book based on an Oklahoma family during the dust bowl. It was a good look into what life was like for some of these families. No where near as depressing as the Grapes of Wrath was, which by the way was based off of a lot of the information that Sanora Babb witnessed and researched during the time. Reading these stories is a good way to put life into perspective; if you think life is rough, look at what these people went through on a daily basis and life looks pretty good agian.

Peg Lotvin
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book, both the story and the back story of how it was ultimately rejected when The Grapes of Wrath beat it out and the story itself. Lyrically written about a not-so lyrical subject. What those people must have had to go through. They plant a crop, things look good for a harvest, the dust blows in and destroys all plans and dreams. And the house is filthy once again. Everything gets taken outside, washed, freshened and returned just in time for it to happen again. You can only imagine t ...more
Steph (loves water)
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Outstanding. I loved this book, the characters, and you could tell she was a fantastic journalist. I can see where J. Steinbeck might've used her notes, and I can see the wisdom in not publishing this book at the same time as Grapes of Wrath. They are two very different books, but where Babb is the reporter, Steinbeck was the storyteller.

I had my doubts when I heard about this book until I read it, as TGOW is one of my favorite books of all time. But Sanora Babb does it just as well in her own
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is the one that was overlooked and shunted aside for The Grapes of Wrath. It admirably portrays the dust bowl, the folks who struggled to live with nothing and their sad journey to migrant labor in California. Despite being worn slick trying to hold onto life despite drought and the terrible treatment of others, these families hold on to their dignity.
Kelly Jackson
May 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's no wonder this book wasn't published when it was originally slated to hit the shelves. It blows Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" out of literary history. This book is astounding and personal, violent and hateful, beautiful and powerful. Absolute must-read.
Aug 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommended to Dem by: Diane S
3.5 stars review to follow
Tony Wilson
Feb 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
More legit than TGOW since Babb actually endured the Dust Bowl and was not simply a spectator writing a bloated novel.
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Almost done. A great book, listened to audio, will read text. I am disappointed that it is not found in the entire library system. It should be in every library. I am trying to get a hard copy from a college but the librarian said, maybe, if they decide to give it up.

It reflects , to me, how things have not changed, and how workers are more disposable than ever. The combined income of all workers has no political power anymore. Unions crippled by threats to their medical benefits. Republicans a
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Sanora Babb (21 April 1907, Oklahoma - 31 December 2005, Hollywood Hills) was an American novelist, poet and literary editor.

(from Wikipedia)
More about Sanora Babb...

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