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Whose Names Are Unknown af Sanora Babb

Whose Names Are Unknown (original 2004; udgave 2006)

af Sanora Babb (Forfatter)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
2118101,755 (4.01)15
The poor but proud Dunne family and their friends struggle to survive on the dust-plagued prairies of the Oklahoma Panhandle, but discover bitter disappointment in the orchards and vineyards of the so-called promised land of California.
Titel:Whose Names Are Unknown
Forfattere:Sanora Babb (Forfatter)
Info:University of Oklahoma Press (2006), Edition: unknown, 240 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek

Work Information

Whose Names Are Unknown af Sanora Babb (2004)


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It is the late 1930s and the country is still in the throes of the Great Depression. On top of that, the Oklahoma panhandle is being plagued by drought and dust storms of historic proportions. The wheat farmers in the region, who struggle to make ends meet in the best of times, are becoming increasingly desperate as their crops have been wiped out for several seasons in a row. Tired of the hunger, illness, and abject poverty they face on a daily basis, many families give up and migrate to California where they hope to establish better lives. Instead, they find nothing but disillusionment in the Golden State, where they are met with contempt, humiliation, and violence from the local farm owners. Told from one family’s perspective, this is a story of the struggle to maintain one’s dignity and basic humanity in the face of almost overwhelming economic deprivation.

So, you may be thinking “Wait, I know this book—The Grapes of Wrath, right?” Well, no, but it almost was. Rather, this is the basic outline of Sanora Babb’s Whose Names Are Unknown, which was written at virtually the same instant as John Steinbeck’s classic work. However, because Babb was an unproven novelist who lacked Steinbeck's star power, her novel was not published at the time; in fact, her original publisher reneged on a contract to produce the book, fearing competition with such a notable rival. To make matters worse, it languished in manuscript form for another 65 years before finally being brought to a wider audience!

That is a real shame because while the two novels are very similar in the subject matter they cover, they do tell somewhat different versions of the story. I actually preferred Steinbeck’s detailed, well-paced, and sweeping approach, but I did appreciate Babb’s concise tale that focuses far more on personal relationships, particularly those involving the younger and female characters. It is also less heavy-handed in terms of its political motivation, which can feel a little dated to the modern reader. Still, if you have read The Grapes of Wrath, you will probably feel like you already know what Whose Names Are Unknown is all about, which makes it difficult to recommend without some reservation. ( )
  browner56 | Mar 16, 2019 |
This book closely examines how the events of the dust bowl affects the Dunne family. It starts by showing how they are eking out a living as farmers in the Oklahoma panhandle. They have neighbors who are doing better than them, but then they are doing better than some. Their one room dugout is cramped but they still rejoice in the hope a new baby brings when Mrs. Dunne discovers she is pregnant. But then the drought and storms start to come, Mrs. Dunne loses the baby, and they are forced to think about abandoning their farm just so they can survive. Just like refugees all throughout history, they pack up their car and head west. As they go from camp to camp following the crops that need to be picked, they are mistreated, called names, and cheated over and over again.
This book is a serious look at the hardships of the dust bowl, and as such it is not an easy read. Yet is is a powerful portrayal of those times and the issues faced, and our book group found a lot to talk about after we read it, even though most of us struggled to get through it. ( )
  debs4jc | Apr 4, 2017 |
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 Grapes of Wrath, Babb began to compile notes about her experience. Twice, she crossed paths with John Steinbeck. Babb went on to write about the workers and the camps in Whose Names Are Unknown. In 1939, she found a publisher for the novel in Random House. All was set. Then The Grapes of Wrath became a sensation. It won the Pulitzer. It won the National Book Award. It was the best selling book of the year. And suddenly, Random House was no longer interested (though they did pay her). In fact, no publisher wanted anything to do with Babb's novel. All knew it would be viewed at best as an anti-climatic follow-up to Steinbeck's novel, at worst a horrible imitation. So Whose Names Are Unknown remained unpublished and unknown until it was picked up by a university press, sixty-five years later, in 2004.

Since its publication, there has been some question as to whether one writer was trying to trying to capitalize off the other's project. Some question as to whether one writer used the other's notes. Personally, I think both were just moved by the situation and had the same great idea at the same time. Unfortunately for Babb, her time came a tad too late.

Undoubtedly, there is quite a bit of similarity between the two novels. Both focus on an Oklahoman family, despite the fact that the Dust Bowl affected other states as well. Both show their journey to California, bouncing around from camp to camp. Both show the desperation of a family being pushed to its limits. While I strongly feel Whose Names Are Unknown stands on its own, I agree with the publisher: at the time, it would not have had the best results.

Yet, Whose Names Are Unknown is not The Grapes of Wrath. Yes, the plots and characters are certainly similar. Even the tone of both pieces, a tone of sadness and protest, was similar. But while Steinbeck moved the Joad family out west as soon as he could, Babb took her time moving the Dunne family. While Steinbeck was much more obvious with his meandering metaphors, Babb stayed primarily focused on the central plot. While Steinbeck unleashed the longest work he'd written up to that point in his life, Babb kept her story incredibly concise. Two sides of the same coin? Yes. But both were stellar in their own regard.

As a long-time Steinbeck fan, I'm quite partial to Steinbeck. That said, Whose Names Are Unknown could've easily earned a place alongside The Grapes of Wrath in my heart, but it did fail on one regard: it was too concise. There are times when the Dunne family seems on the brink of collapse. Then the next chapter they're getting along decently. There's no bridge or explanation. This was particularly noticeable at a point in the story when the family is thrown from their small home with all their possessions. The next chapter, the family is in their kitchen with all their possessions. Was this a new home? The old? What happened? There are a few too many moments such as these that keep an observant reader asking, “what did I miss?” I can't help but wonder if word got out about Steinbeck's upcoming novel, and if there wasn't a rush to finish this one. That would certainly be a logical reason for some of the holes in the story. Even with the holes, however, the reader can surmise what happened in the in-between and not miss too much.

So fellow writers, remember the lesson of Babb and Steinbeck: while you're sitting on your wonderful idea, a muse may be handing your novel to another writer. Not that I think Babb was sitting on her idea, or made any wrong choices in the matter, but it's still a valuable lesson. No, I think the misfortunes of Whose Names Are Unknown can be chalked up to the cosmos or fate or chance or whatever you want to call it. Fortunately, we now have access to this great work, and while it may be too late for the migratory workers of the 1930s, it might be just in time for our current mounting troubles with the climate and worker's rights. Maybe the fates had reason to delay this novel's publication. ( )
1 stem chrisblocker | Sep 16, 2016 |
Took me a really long time to get into this book. Realistic dialogue and characterization are the most important to me when reading. The dialogue in the first half of the book didn't sit with me. I felt the author was speaking to me and not a conversation between characters. The second half of the book the author seemed to get it together and I felt the writing got better. Unfortunately characterization continued to suffer. This could have been any dustbowl family in any book. Grapes of Wrath is by far the better book. ( )
  flippinpages | May 12, 2014 |
Well that was depressing. Misery, starvation, and exploitation. The details about how the drought and dust bowl devastated the midwest were fascinating since I knew very little about that era. But I'm not kidding about this being a miserable read - 200 pages of hardship with not even a glimmer of hope at the end. In fact, it just ends, another day with starving mouths to feed, another penniless day without the prospect of work. No change in the weather, no hope for the future, maybe a spark of salvation in the power of striking workers. Babb obviously captures the desolation of the time but I found her writing a little child-like in places, like it was written by a high school student even though she was in her 30s when she wrote it. Might be better used as a reading assignment in high school history classes. ( )
  sushitori | Apr 24, 2014 |
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The poor but proud Dunne family and their friends struggle to survive on the dust-plagued prairies of the Oklahoma Panhandle, but discover bitter disappointment in the orchards and vineyards of the so-called promised land of California.

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