January 19, 2014

Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb

Originally written and set to be published in 1939, Sanora Babb's "Whose Names are Unknown" is considered to be one of the most famous unpublished novels of the thirties. This novel is based on her own experience as a child in the dryland farm region that would become the dust bowl. She begins this novel in the bleak landscape of the western end of the Oklahoma Panhandle. It follows the lives of the dryland farmers, documenting their daily struggle to scratch out a simple living during the most sever environmental catastrophe in the United States. The second half of the novel documents life in the migrant labor camps of California.

I mentioned that Sanora Babb wrote this novel in 1939, however it wasn't published until 2006. Before Babb's novel could be published, John Steinback's "The Grapes of Wrath" hit the shelves. Over 430,000 copies of "The Grapes of Wrath" were sold within the first five months of publication. With the success of Steinback's novel, Babb's publisher did not think that there would enough public interest for two novels with similar content.

While picking grapes, the main Protagonist asked if "anyone of these men [landowners] ever walk among the vines, picking the grapes with his [the landowners] own hands, remembering when he came to America as a worker? Did he ever look at the men he hired now and remember himself in them?"

This wasn't an easy novel to read. Failed pregnancies, suicides, dust storms, starvation, labor strikes and unions, loss of land and the Great Depression are all part of the character's daily experiences. It was shocking, and horrible reading about how the migrant workers were treated in the California labor camps. The land owners treated the migrant workers like disposable tissues. Something to use and abuse. Yes, I understand that this novel only tells one side of the story, however it is a horrible thing when one human being feels he or she has the right to mistreat and abuse another. Many of the labors were farmers once, simply looking for a way to feed their families.

This novel is well written and I highly recommend it for any home library.

No comments:

Post a Comment