Whose Names are Unknown
Set in the Dust Bowl 1930s, Whose Names Are Unknown gets its poignant title from a legal eviction notice of the farm families of the Great Depression. Its story follows the Dunnes – Milt, Julia, their two little girls, and Milt’s father Konkie and friends – through their struggles to survive in the Oklahoma Panhandle, and then the even-worse conditions of life as farm workers in the irrigated valleys of California. From the optimistic hope that “one big wheat crop will start us a house,” to families visiting each other to “the good smells of onions cooking,” and relishing crops growing “in order and loveliness” to ecological disaster and migrant camps, Whose Names Are Unknown seethes with life and remembrance of good people. Though caught in the crucible of devastating storms of both dust and greed, they are led by relentless courage and perseverance.
Considered a “lost” work, Whose Names Are Unknown was intended for publication until Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath became a bestseller. Bennett Cerf of Random House, an early champion, then judged dealing with the same subject “would be a sad anticlimax.” Now, thanks to the University of Oklahoma Press and its Wallace C. Thompson Endowment Fund, this fine novel by an eyewitness to this history can shine its own light.