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Extended Audio Sample Whose Names Are Unknown: A Novel, by Sanora Babb Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Sanora Babb Narrator: Alyssa Bresnahan Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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 Dunne 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “The publication of Whose Names Are Unknown rights a decades-old literary wrong.”

    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.”

    Tulsa World

  • “Originally written and slated for publication in 1939, this long-forgotten masterpiece was shelved…in the belief that Steinbeck already adequately explored the subject matter…[Yet it] provides 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…brings an insider’s knowledge and immediacy to this authentically compelling narrative. A slightly less political, more female-oriented, companion piece to The Grapes of Wrath.”


  • “Alyssa Bresnahan grabs attention and never releases it throughout Sanora Babb’s deeply felt and deeply human novel…Bresnahan brings so much truth to each character that it sounds as if we’re listening to a documentary in which real people are telling their stories. 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. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award.”


  • “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

  • “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 US literature.”

    Alan M. Wald, author of Exiles from a Future Time

  • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award
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About the Author

Sanora Babb (1907–2005), born in what is now Oklahoma, was the author of five books, as well as numerous essays, short stories, and poems that were published in literary magazines alongside the work of William Saroyan, Ralph Ellison, Katherine Anne Porter, and William Carlos Williams. As a native of Oklahoma’s arid panhandle and a volunteer with the Farm Security Administration in Depression-era California, she brought an insider’s knowledge and immediacy to her authentically compelling narratives. Her Dust Bowl novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, was featured in the Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl.