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Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival

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Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community and forgiveness "speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness and wisdom" (Ursula K. Le Guin).


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Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community and forgiveness "speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness and wisdom" (Ursula K. Le Guin).

30 review for Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brina

    Over the course of my reading this year, I have come across a number of books stressing the importance of age being just a number and that just because a person is old, does not make that person weak or enfeebled. The latest book that I have encountered this in is Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis. A mythological tale passed down orally from generation to generation, Wallis has set a tale that her mother told her into print form as she relates how Over the course of my reading this year, I have come across a number of books stressing the importance of age being just a number and that just because a person is old, does not make that person weak or enfeebled. The latest book that I have encountered this in is Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis. A mythological tale passed down orally from generation to generation, Wallis has set a tale that her mother told her into print form as she relates how two remarkable women saved her Gwich'in people. The Gwich'in people live above the Arctic circle, north of Fairbanks. Winters are brutal and even though the bands of tribes are native to the land, their is a constant struggle to obtain food and survive. Some of the tribes had even been known to turn to cannibalism. In some situations, when starvation was at its height, tribal leaders made the decision to move and search for a new camp, leaving behind those too weak to assist the tribe in its survival. In each instance, the ones left behind are older women who are viewed as close to death and a burden to the younger, able bodied members of the tribes. The leaders of the Gwich'in people are no different and the tribal chief tells eighty year old Ch'idzigyaak and seventy five year old Sa' that they will have to be left behind as the tribe migrates to obtain food and shelter for the upcoming winter. Ch'idzigyaak and Sa' decide to conquer their situation as they have both their life experience as hunters and their pride to fall back on. They can either stay rooted to one spot and meet death in the eye or they can make the best of their situation and survive. Although the women are peers, they had never been close as Ch'idzigyaak's life focused around her daughter, whereas Sa' never married and chose to hunt game with the men of her tribe. Between the two women, they knew enough about hunting, fishing, starting fires, and sewing to survive even the most horrendous of northern Alaskan winters. The women grow close and find out that in the history of both of their tribes, other older women had been left behind to die; yet, the other women had been enfeebled and close to death. These two women still believe that they have much of their life ahead of them and are emblematic of the fact that age is but a number to look at. As this tale was an oral history passed down throughout the generations, Wallis writes this mythical tale as though she was telling. The writing is in a simplistic storytelling style; however, the story is enriching that I was captivated by it. I am usually not a fan of mythology but Wallis' novella is about remarkable women and is an entry in 500 Great Books By Women by Erica Bauermeister, and I have made it a long term goal to eventually read all 500 books listed in this valuable reference tool. As the baby boom generation ages, the issue of age being a number rather than a state in life becomes more and more of timely issue by the day. Wallis has gifted her people and readers with a lovely tale about both the survival of her tribe and about age being just a number, and a tale I rate 3.5 stars.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    The universe found a way to get this book into my hands at just the right moment, and for that bit of magic I am grateful. As I write this, I have been quarantined at home for eight weeks. The other night, weary from reading depressing news articles about the pandemic and American politics, and also tired from worrying and generally feeling that everything is terrible, I set aside my iPhone, with its addictive subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post, and instead grabbed a copy The universe found a way to get this book into my hands at just the right moment, and for that bit of magic I am grateful. As I write this, I have been quarantined at home for eight weeks. The other night, weary from reading depressing news articles about the pandemic and American politics, and also tired from worrying and generally feeling that everything is terrible, I set aside my iPhone, with its addictive subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post, and instead grabbed a copy of "Two Old Women" from my pile of library books. The paperback was well-worn; it has been repaired with book tape several times, and the due-date card in the front shows nearly 50 checkouts in the last 15 years. The reason this book was brought to my attention in the first place was because a library employee asked me if we should replace it, considering the poor shape it was in. That conversation about the damaged book happened back in early February — back before I had ever heard the terms "social distancing" or "flatten the curve," back when the NCAA tournament and South by Southwest and even the baseball season were all still on schedule, back when I was still considering whether to plan a trip over spring break in mid-March. I remember looking at the book, with its aqua-blue cover and a drawing of two people sitting in a kind of teepee, and reading its subtitle: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival. And I had that feeling that I sometimes get when I hold a book in my hands — there was a voice in me saying that I needed to read this book, that I needed to WAKE UP and pay attention to what it has to teach me, and it felt as if this bound collection of pages and drawings had willed itself into existence for this very moment. And so, trusting that feeling, I checked out the well-worn book and took it home, thinking I would find time for it some weekend, or maybe over spring break. And it sat in the library pile, patiently waiting for me while the world changed. Suddenly I needed to stock up on several weeks of groceries, set up a work space on my kitchen table, transition my in-person class to an online class, and I still had to manage my employees and my library budget and try not to get Zoomed-out during all of those Zoom meetings. Meanwhile, I was neglecting my pile of library books. I was so focused on work and teaching my class and worrying about the state of the world that I didn't think I had room in my brain to read a book. But then I hit my breaking point the other night and I picked up the aqua-blue library book on top of the pile. I was immediately transported to the Alaskan wilderness, making me forget about my current woes. Now I was focused on the plight of two old women who were abruptly abandoned by their tribe because there wasn't enough food to go around. "The council and I have arrived at a decision." The chief paused as if to find the strength to voice his next words. "We are going to have to leave the old ones behind." ... The two women sat old and small before the campfire with their chins held up proudly, disguising their shock. In their younger days they had seen very old people left behind, but they never expected such a fate. They stared ahead numbly as if they had not heard the chief condemn them to a certain death — to be left alone to fend for themselves in a land that understood only strength. Two weak old women stood no chance against such a rule. The news left them without words or action and no way to defend themselves. I love wilderness stories, tales about people surviving incredible ordeals, legends about how a person's mettle is tested. This is one of those books, and I was so engrossed I read it in one sitting. The journey of these women was gripping and inspiring, and it was accompanied by some striking black-and-white illustrations that showed the stark challenges the two women faced out on their own in Alaska. Reading it, I felt as if I were sitting around a campfire, listening to my ancestors pass down the legend of these amazing women who didn't realize how strong and capable they were. "Stories are gifts given by an elder to a younger person." This is a book that restored my faith in the human spirit when I needed it most. Highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Melki

    During a particularly bitter winter, with food supplies quickly being depleted, the Chief of a nomadic Alaskan tribe does the unthinkable: he utters the words, "We are going to have to leave the old ones behind." And, just like that, two elderly women are left to fend for themselves. A rush of anger surged within her. How dare they! Her cheeks burned with the humiliation. She and the other old woman were not close to dying! Had they not sewn and tanned for what the people gave them? They did not h During a particularly bitter winter, with food supplies quickly being depleted, the Chief of a nomadic Alaskan tribe does the unthinkable: he utters the words, "We are going to have to leave the old ones behind." And, just like that, two elderly women are left to fend for themselves. A rush of anger surged within her. How dare they! Her cheeks burned with the humiliation. She and the other old woman were not close to dying! Had they not sewn and tanned for what the people gave them? They did not have to be carried from camp to camp. They were neither helpless nor hopeless. Yet they had been condemned to die. It is expected that the two will quickly perish, but instead, using skills learned over a lifetime, they not only survive, but manage to thrive in the harsh, unforgiving environment. This was a quick, and very involving read. For me it was a three-and-a-half star read, but I'll round it up due to the author's positive message about age not being a limit to one's abilities. And, for these great words to live by: " . . . I say that if we are going to die, my friend, let us die trying, not sitting." You go, gals!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    A classic native legend of two old women surviving the cold winter in the tundra region of Alaska. A perfect quick read to kick off my year of reading Alaska and Canada, and book 1 of 2018.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Hayat

    5+++beautiful inspirational stars! I loved this tale of betrayal and injustice turned into hope, self-discovery, integrity, survival of extreme situation and friendship...Especially because the courageous survivors were two old frail women! “Now, because we have spent so many years convincing the younger people that we are helpless, they believe that we are no longer of use to this world.” This is a story before the time of Western culture, a traditional Athabaskan (natives of Alaska) story h 5+++beautiful inspirational stars! I loved this tale of betrayal and injustice turned into hope, self-discovery, integrity, survival of extreme situation and friendship...Especially because the courageous survivors were two old frail women! “Now, because we have spent so many years convincing the younger people that we are helpless, they believe that we are no longer of use to this world.” This is a story before the time of Western culture, a traditional Athabaskan (natives of Alaska) story handed down generation to generation, from person to person until it was written by the author after it was handed down to her by her mother. ‘To survive, we’re forced to imitate some of the ways of the animal. Like the younger, more able wolves who shun the old leader of the pack, these people would leave the old behind so they could move faster without the extra burden.’ This is the short story of two old women, Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’ and their struggle to survive extreme winter weather, harsh environment, hunger and the infirmity of old age after being abandoned by their family group. The people (tribal council) decide that the two elderly women in their care would jeopardise the group’s survival and drain what little resources and strength they have at this most critical time. As it is, they are hard-pressed to find food and the group is close to starvation. The solution is to abandon them to their fate: starvation and death. ‘In those days, leaving the old behind in times of starvation was not an unknown act, although in this band it was happening for the first time.’ This is a cruel decision and unpleasant death pronounced on the old ladies by the people they trusted the most: their own family, tribe and neighbours. The women are shocked and heart-broken, but no one dares to protest this decision for fear of their own and their family’s survival. ‘So it was that the weak and beaten members of the tribe kept what dismay they felt to themselves, for they knew that the cold could bring on a wave of panic followed by cruelty and brutality among people fighting for survival.’ This deep betrayal and abandonment leads to the exploration of fear, resentment and stoicism. But from this bleak premise rises a surprising and powerful theme of extreme survival, strength, self-discovery, female bonding/sisterhood as well as redemption, forgiveness, dignity and ultimately- respect. The old women realised that they didn't have to resign themselves to old age and all its limitations. They discovered a fighting spirit, determination and the courage to try and achieve the impossible and I loved that! "Yes, in their own way they have condemned us to die! They think we are too old and useless. They forget that we, too, have earned the right to live! So I say if we are going to die, my friend, let us die trying, not sitting.” I loved the transformation the two old ladies go through; from using a walking stick as aid and complaining about aches and pains and all the other ailments of old age to the realisation that they were not worthless or helpless. I really enjoyed their fighting spirit and dignity of these ladies. It was exhilarating to see them rediscover who they are, what they’re capable of and recall all the different survival skills they acquired throughout their long life in these harsh lands. I loved, loved, love this story and the way it evokes a sense of isolation and desperation but then it drags you through that dark tunnel and into the light, to a world full of promise, confidence, integrity, friendship and redeeming love. I absolutely adored this simple yet beautiful and moving old story from the Athabaskan people of Alaska. Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival is a testament to the old saying: ‘respect your elders’, because you can still learn from them more than you think.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I read Velma Wallis' Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun: An Athabaskan Indian Legend from Alaska many years ago and really enjoyed her translation of oral history to the written word. It was nice to revisit her folk stories in this short novel. My hard copy of the book is the 20th Anniversary edition, published in 2013. Glad to see the publisher re-release the book to a new audience. The story follows a small band of Athabaskans in a particularly hard winter, who make the choice to leave I read Velma Wallis' Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun: An Athabaskan Indian Legend from Alaska many years ago and really enjoyed her translation of oral history to the written word. It was nice to revisit her folk stories in this short novel. My hard copy of the book is the 20th Anniversary edition, published in 2013. Glad to see the publisher re-release the book to a new audience. The story follows a small band of Athabaskans in a particularly hard winter, who make the choice to leave two elderly women behind on their journeys to lighten the load (and allow more food) for the rest of the group. It's a heartbreaking scene, and the women feel betrayed. This sadness turns into willpower and a desire to survive, even in the harshest of environments. A lovely story of survival and will, but also an inspiration for living.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lynne Spreen

    Update: Mom loved it, and I am so grateful that she and I share a love of fiction! Review: I loved this book. I can't wait to give it to my 89-year-old mother to read. It's such an affirmation of the dignity and wisdom of older age. My review may spoil the story for you so proceed cautiously from here. Two Old Women is based on an Athabascan Indian legend. A starving tribe of Alaskan natives leaves two old women alone in the freezing cold to die, because every mouthful of food is precious, and the Update: Mom loved it, and I am so grateful that she and I share a love of fiction! Review: I loved this book. I can't wait to give it to my 89-year-old mother to read. It's such an affirmation of the dignity and wisdom of older age. My review may spoil the story for you so proceed cautiously from here. Two Old Women is based on an Athabascan Indian legend. A starving tribe of Alaskan natives leaves two old women alone in the freezing cold to die, because every mouthful of food is precious, and these two are unhelpful. They don't contribute to the tribe; they take from it. People have to help them. They complain constantly. Once the tribe leaves them, though, they must decide whether to accept the death sentence or not. The younger woman, 75, says we might die anyway, but if that is so, let's at least die trying to live. So they adopt that motto. At least let's die trying. They manage to avert death by recalling long-unused knowledge of survival skills. In spite of their old, achy bodies, they thrive and bond with each other, but they are lonely and sad. Eventually, there's a happy ending, which I'll let you discover for yourself. If you're like me, you'll reread it, crying with joy each time. But the message of this book is multi-faceted. Elders can and should continue to contribute until the end. Youth should respect the elders for their valuable knowledge. All people benefit from this synergy. Two Old Women is a short book. I read it in one evening. I heartily recommend it, particularly to those who are older and feeling ignored, useless, or confused. This book will get you up and moving, and it will make you happy.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Konstantin

    There was virtually no suspense or tension, as each of the problems the women faced were quickly solved in a repetitive manner - but I was still charmed by it. An emotionally powerful, pleasant read - and it's short! Recommended. There was virtually no suspense or tension, as each of the problems the women faced were quickly solved in a repetitive manner - but I was still charmed by it. An emotionally powerful, pleasant read - and it's short! Recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Velma Wallis was born in Fort Yukon, a remote village in interior Alaska and grew up in a traditional Athabaskan family. Alaskan Athabaskans are native to Alaska, the original inhabitants of the interior of Alaska, living a culture of inland creek and river fishing, fabricating what they need from the resources that surround them, living by a matrilineal system in which children belong to the mother's clan. They are believed to have descended from Asians who crossed from eastern Siberia into Alas Velma Wallis was born in Fort Yukon, a remote village in interior Alaska and grew up in a traditional Athabaskan family. Alaskan Athabaskans are native to Alaska, the original inhabitants of the interior of Alaska, living a culture of inland creek and river fishing, fabricating what they need from the resources that surround them, living by a matrilineal system in which children belong to the mother's clan. They are believed to have descended from Asians who crossed from eastern Siberia into Alaska during an early Ice Age. The People Velma Wallis writes about in this legend, roamed the land and rivers around the area she was born, following trails that ensured they had access to the necessary resources to survive the changing seasons. They depended on the annual salmon runs and large game as well as small animals, using their skins for warmth. Growing up in a traditional way, the young Velma also lived in different summer and winter cabins and although no longer a child, she enjoyed the nightly stories her mother continue to narrate. One of those stories was about two old women and their journey through hardship and it lead to her mother reflecting on how she had been able to overcome her own obstacles of old age, despite how physically agonising it could be. The story held such fascination to her that she wrote it down and it evolved into this little book, once a story handed down from generation to generation, now committed to print so that an ever wider audience could learn from its wisdom. "This story told me that there is no limit to one's ability - certainly not age - to accomplish in life what one must. Within each individual in this large and complicated world there lives an astounding potential of greatness. Yet it is rare that these hidden gifts are brought to life unless by chance of fate." Velma Wallis The story tells of a group of nomads, People of the arctic region of Alaska who are on the move in search of food, but this particular winter they are beset with problems, the game they usually hunt due to the excess cold have become difficult to find and the smaller animals are not enough to sustain the group. Hunters are fed first, meaning there is often not enough for the women and children. In the group there are two old women whom the People care for, Ch'idzigyaak and Sa', younger men set up their shelters, younger women pull their possessions, however they are both known for constantly complaining of their aches and pains. One day, the chief makes a sudden announcement, one that the group has heard of from their stories, but never witnessed within their own band. "The council and I have arrived at a decision." The chief paused as if to find the strength to voice his next words. "We are going to have to leave the old ones behind." The women are shocked, as are the People, the older woman has a daughter and grandson, however no one objects, not even the daughter, though she leaves her mother a parting gift, one that will be intrinsic to their survival. The group moves away leaving the stunned women sitting by the remains of their temporary camp. Until they awaken to the reality of their situation and find within them the will to move. "Yes, in their own way they have condemned us to die! They think we are too old and useless. They forget that we, too, have earned the right to love! So I say if we are going to die, my friend, let us die trying, not sitting." And so begins a challenging journey, a reawakening and discovery of talents that had lain dormant from lack of use, as the two women set out to prove their People wrong and more, to set an example, though no one is there to witness it. It's a fabulous and poignant story about the value of the accumulation of years, and a reminder for those who arrive there not to lapse into laziness and a sense of entitlement, the respect that they deserve should be earned, the wisdom they are able to impart is not just what is spoken, it can be demonstrated by their actions and attitudes. Its' beautiful illustrations by James Grant bring the story to life and it is equally an ode to the importance of sharing experiences through friendship and community. Highly Recommended!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This is a rather wonderful re-telling of a legend about two women who are abandoned by thier tribe. The book chronicles the women as they find that while surviving is hard, they can do it, and perhaps teach some lessons of thier own.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Henry

    Tougher than an Artic Winter The story of the two vulnerable amid the inhospitable is fascinating survival. The author's style is sparse as the events unfold - there's no lingering before moving on to what is next. The downside is some characters seem shallow. Good story in a brief read. Tougher than an Artic Winter The story of the two vulnerable amid the inhospitable is fascinating survival. The author's style is sparse as the events unfold - there's no lingering before moving on to what is next. The downside is some characters seem shallow. Good story in a brief read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    Who would have thought that two grannies would be booted from the tribe? Not enough resources, not enough to go around, not enough hands to attend them with their many needs and peculiarities. That's where this story begins. I am a granny, so it certainly got my attention. If I had read this story as a young woman my perspective would have been from another side, entirely. As a middle-aged person, yet another. Here I come from the end of the line. The booted. Outrageous! Who have made so many thi Who would have thought that two grannies would be booted from the tribe? Not enough resources, not enough to go around, not enough hands to attend them with their many needs and peculiarities. That's where this story begins. I am a granny, so it certainly got my attention. If I had read this story as a young woman my perspective would have been from another side, entirely. As a middle-aged person, yet another. Here I come from the end of the line. The booted. Outrageous! Who have made so many things possible throughout the years? Those invisible workers, the house-elves (tent-elves?), who just go and do, and the only time you notice is when the job isn't done (not the 99 times it was done!). I loved this story. Sa' is 75 years old, and Ch'idzigyaak is 80 years old. Both mope for a bit, but a kind, yet resolute daughter has left a valuable resource and a dear grandson has given them his hatchet. These tools alone will not save them, but certainly they are hope-made-tangible and will be the medicine they need to overcome the sickness of despair that beckons them to easy surrender. NO! They will not, and do not. A reminder across generations and cultures that we are more than we think we are. We can accomplish more than others think we can. We just need to get up and do. Prove those mistaken decision-makers wrong. Again.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    I liked this. The title is so accurate, because this is indeed a book about two old women. They are old, and maybe they don't work as hard around camp as others. So when times get tough for the tribe, the leader leaves them behind for the sake of the tribe as a whole, because these women aren't contributors. While this is not great literature, I loved the messages. These women realize things about themselves that they have ignored and or didn't want to admit, but now their survival is a task tha I liked this. The title is so accurate, because this is indeed a book about two old women. They are old, and maybe they don't work as hard around camp as others. So when times get tough for the tribe, the leader leaves them behind for the sake of the tribe as a whole, because these women aren't contributors. While this is not great literature, I loved the messages. These women realize things about themselves that they have ignored and or didn't want to admit, but now their survival is a task that completely rests upon their own shoulders....they have no one else. I loved their journey of discovery in the Alaskan wilderness. It wasn't just a physical one. So 4 stars.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Based on an Athabaskan legend passed on by mothers to their daughters, this slim volume presents us with two elders who have been abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Realizing they must put aside their complaints and rejuvenate the skills they are equipped with, these two women show the importance of kinship and human resilience. I really enjoyed this story which for me was a great character tale. Goodreads review published 30/08/20

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Shwayder

    I'm an older woman myself busy exploring the wilderness near the town where my husband and I have retired. My daughter thought I'd love this book about VERY old Athabaskan women who are left behind by their migrating tribe because they would be a burden on the tribe. Instead of going off to die in the wilderness they figure out how to survive on their own. It is an exquisitely detailed retelling of an old legend the author grew up hearing. She has truly honored her elders by writing this wonderf I'm an older woman myself busy exploring the wilderness near the town where my husband and I have retired. My daughter thought I'd love this book about VERY old Athabaskan women who are left behind by their migrating tribe because they would be a burden on the tribe. Instead of going off to die in the wilderness they figure out how to survive on their own. It is an exquisitely detailed retelling of an old legend the author grew up hearing. She has truly honored her elders by writing this wonderful book. It is a short read but you feel like you've lived through a long experience!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    The native people in this legend are one of eleven distinct bands of nomadic tribes which belong to the Athabaskan group in northeastern Alaska. Depending on the weather, these groups follow the sources of food - animals, plants, berries - throughout the year. This story takes place during an especially frigid winter. The members of the band are facing starvation as their sources of food become more and more limited. It’s easy to feel their desperation as the weather turns colder and colder. The The native people in this legend are one of eleven distinct bands of nomadic tribes which belong to the Athabaskan group in northeastern Alaska. Depending on the weather, these groups follow the sources of food - animals, plants, berries - throughout the year. This story takes place during an especially frigid winter. The members of the band are facing starvation as their sources of food become more and more limited. It’s easy to feel their desperation as the weather turns colder and colder. The tribal council had never chosen to abandon anyone, but this time they make the difficult decision to leave two elderly women behind. They have become a burden to the group. This legend is an inspirational tale of courage, perseverance, determination, and strength of spirit that the two old women exhibit as the try to survive or die trying. Two Old Women: an Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival won the 1993 Western States Book Award and the 1994 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elyse

    The message I got from this book is "Don't be a crabby old lady or else no one will want to be around you." Seriously, this is a nice story about the resilience of old people and the grace of forgiveness. The message I got from this book is "Don't be a crabby old lady or else no one will want to be around you." Seriously, this is a nice story about the resilience of old people and the grace of forgiveness.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kristel

    Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis. A story set in Alaska's arctic circle (an area between Fort Yukon and Chalkyitsik) is about two old women of the Gwich'in People. The Gwich'in People are one of eleven distinct Athabaskan groups in Alaska. This is the story of two old women who do nothing while other members of The People have to assist them as they walk with their walking sticks complaining. One hard winter The People are starving and it is decid Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis. A story set in Alaska's arctic circle (an area between Fort Yukon and Chalkyitsik) is about two old women of the Gwich'in People. The Gwich'in People are one of eleven distinct Athabaskan groups in Alaska. This is the story of two old women who do nothing while other members of The People have to assist them as they walk with their walking sticks complaining. One hard winter The People are starving and it is decided that the two old women will be left. The two old women are devastated and nearly give up, when one says "..they have condemned us to die? They think that we are too old and useless. They forget that we, too, have earned the right to live? So I say if we are going to die, my friend, let us die trying, not sitting. So the 75 and 80 year olds set about "trying to live". This is a beautiful story of survival, of friendship of women, of old age and the value of old age to the community. The author was born in 1960 in Fort Yukon. She grew up in a traditional Athabaskan family. She has lived alone in her father's trapping cabin 12 miles from the village for dozens of years. She passed a high school equivalency exam and began to write down a legend her mother had told her about the two abandoned old women and their survival.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    Velma Wallis's Two Old Women is a short and simple story: during a famine, a tribal group of Gwich'in, on of the Athabaskan groups in Alaska, abandoned two old women to die. Against all odds, they live. How did these two old women make it when everyone else was starving? They supported each other and pulled each other through difficult times. Their late night conversations helped them remember previous successes and access long-forgotten strengths and skills. They were even helped by a daughter Velma Wallis's Two Old Women is a short and simple story: during a famine, a tribal group of Gwich'in, on of the Athabaskan groups in Alaska, abandoned two old women to die. Against all odds, they live. How did these two old women make it when everyone else was starving? They supported each other and pulled each other through difficult times. Their late night conversations helped them remember previous successes and access long-forgotten strengths and skills. They were even helped by a daughter and grandson before being left to die: leaving a basket of babiche and gifting a hatchet.The People had thought themselves to be strong, yet they had been weak. And the two old ones whom they thought to be the most helpless and useless had proven themselves to be strong.This is not a complicated story, and its conclusions aren't novel, but its heroines are more complicated than they had thought they were. Despite its brevity, Two Old Women is moving, without dipping into pathos. I've already recommended this story to two people.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Abigail

    A good friend of mine was once aghast to hear that I had given my grandmother a copy of Velma Wallis's Two Old Women for her birthday, inscribed as follows: To Gran, the strongest woman I know, with love on your 90th Birthday, Abby. Apparently the women of her family, regardless of their age, did not like to be thought "old," and it would have been considered an unpardonable breach of good manners for my friend to have given any of her elders a book with such a title. For my part, I was dismayed A good friend of mine was once aghast to hear that I had given my grandmother a copy of Velma Wallis's Two Old Women for her birthday, inscribed as follows: To Gran, the strongest woman I know, with love on your 90th Birthday, Abby. Apparently the women of her family, regardless of their age, did not like to be thought "old," and it would have been considered an unpardonable breach of good manners for my friend to have given any of her elders a book with such a title. For my part, I was dismayed, though perhaps not astonished, given our image-obsessed culture, that anyone would consider "old" such a pejorative term, or think of age as something to be ashamed of and hidden, rather than celebrated. I also recall thinking that if a woman didn't know she was old at ninety, or could take offense at a heartfelt gift, meant to express love and deep respect for her wisdom and strength, than she must be sadly lacking in either reason or dignity; and I was glad that such a thing could not be said of the women of my family. But since it would most DEFINITELY have been an unpardonable breach of good manners to have expressed such a sentiment to her, I simply replied, "I do not think my grandmother will be offended." This wonderful book, based upon a legend passed down among the Athabascan women of Alaska, relates the story of two old women who are cast out by their tribe one hard winter. Two old complainers, who seem to have little to contribute to the welfare of the group, Ch'idzigyaak and Sa' have become an untenable burden to a people struggling to survive in a harsh and unforgiving landscape, and it is decided that they must be abandoned. But it is not the young alone who have courage, and when these two old women set out to "die trying," they discover that they still have what it takes to survive. Their knowledge of old fishing grounds stands them in good stead, and when they are reunited with the People, they demonstrate that they do indeed have something vital to contribute: the knowledge that comes with experience and age. As a story of survival, Two Old Women is an engrossing, exciting read. As a fable about aging, the place of the elderly in a culture, and reconciliation between the generations, it was truly moving. I was impressed that no one was vilified in the story, and each decision reached, however much we might disagree with it in today's world, made sense in the context of that time and place. I always hesitate to use the word "inspirational," as it has been so abused that it seems to have lost all meaning...but there doesn't seem to be any help for it. This truly was an inspirational book, and I highly recommend it to people of all ages. And as for my grandmother? When we had the misfortune to lose her a few years back, we found this among her books. She had been in the habit of underlining any bit of text she found especially moving or meaningful. Almost every paragraph was underlined...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    A short, quick read, well worth the few afternoon hours it took me to devour the chronicling of an Alaskan legend. In the introduction, author Velma Wallis writes: This story of the two old women is from a time long before the arrival of the Western culture, and has been handed down from generation to generation, from person to person, to my mother, and then to me. ... This story told me that there is no limit to one's ability - certainly not age - to accomplish in life what one must. Within A short, quick read, well worth the few afternoon hours it took me to devour the chronicling of an Alaskan legend. In the introduction, author Velma Wallis writes: This story of the two old women is from a time long before the arrival of the Western culture, and has been handed down from generation to generation, from person to person, to my mother, and then to me. ... This story told me that there is no limit to one's ability - certainly not age - to accomplish in life what one must. Within each individual on this large and complicated world there lives an astounding potential of greatness. Yet it is rare that these hidden gifts are brought to life unless by the chance of fate. Nearly winter, The People are near starvation. It is decided to leave behind two old women, that doing so will make it easier for The People. They cannot support the many mouths they have to feed. This is a marvelous story of courage and survival.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Reese

    During a time when she and her mother were working outdoors side-by-side [in the Fort Yukon community in Alaska] and reflecting upon those ancestors who had been able to sustain a gritty, hard-won physical strength and wisdom up until their deaths - Velma Wallis's mother told her this story, which had been orally handed down from generation to generation. Impressed by the legend's great life lessons, Velma returned to their winter cabin and wrote it down, "using a little of [her] own creative im During a time when she and her mother were working outdoors side-by-side [in the Fort Yukon community in Alaska] and reflecting upon those ancestors who had been able to sustain a gritty, hard-won physical strength and wisdom up until their deaths - Velma Wallis's mother told her this story, which had been orally handed down from generation to generation. Impressed by the legend's great life lessons, Velma returned to their winter cabin and wrote it down, "using a little of [her] own creative imagination." I think this story speaks to me more now that I've got some mileage in life. I'm not sure it would have resonated with my younger self who had so much energy and naivete to burn and thought that the world was her oyster!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    I hit a rough patch at work and a friend suggested that I try this quick read. "Its inspirational" she said, and "can help you keep going". The story is simple, and is indeed inspirational. A retelling of a long told tale about two older woman abandoned by others as they trek across the frozen Artic Circle. Old and complaining, the starving People decide to leave them behind. The women take turns supporting each other and they manage to carve out a life complete with food and warmth that greets I hit a rough patch at work and a friend suggested that I try this quick read. "Its inspirational" she said, and "can help you keep going". The story is simple, and is indeed inspirational. A retelling of a long told tale about two older woman abandoned by others as they trek across the frozen Artic Circle. Old and complaining, the starving People decide to leave them behind. The women take turns supporting each other and they manage to carve out a life complete with food and warmth that greets The People when they return, regretful of their decision and afraid that the women are long since dead. The story is a simple one, and it is inspirational in the clear message of how someones the only way to deal with something is to face it head on, bracing yourself against the wind.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    I've become increasingly sick of the Battle Royale iterations a good portion of my television shows have turned into. Kill your darlings if you must in your creative writing classes, but if you think chopping off characters whom the audiences have obviously become attached to is more profound and/or more worthwhile and/or better for ratings, it's more likely that you're lying to yourself and taking the easy way out. In this day and whitewashing age, vacuums are simple to deal with. You plant a m I've become increasingly sick of the Battle Royale iterations a good portion of my television shows have turned into. Kill your darlings if you must in your creative writing classes, but if you think chopping off characters whom the audiences have obviously become attached to is more profound and/or more worthwhile and/or better for ratings, it's more likely that you're lying to yourself and taking the easy way out. In this day and whitewashing age, vacuums are simple to deal with. You plant a memorial, dole out the grief for appropriate rage-induced power-ups amongst the demographically fit characters remaining, and repeat the murderous cycle with new faces and old whenever the drama needs to be boosted over as efficient a number of characters as possible. It’s much harder to maintain a cast in as believable and engaging a complexity as is demanded by an audience over long periods of time than it is to amputate whenever plot threads have become too unwieldy or personalities have evolved past the point of simple tropes and stereotypes. To put it simply, if the average TV show regardless of genre was as conscientiously holistic as ‘Middlemarch’, I’d be a lot happier. In the last week, Thanksgiving Day, an eviction notice by the Army Corps of Engineers, and self-deployed veterans all converged on NoDAPL water protectors: the last to protect, the former two to antagonize. It’s no surprise that this is occurring, as a postcolonial world can hardly exist when multiple settler states in the form of the entirety of North America, South America, Australia, and other components of various continents continue to exist. It's no surprise either that mass media coverage has either been silent, misleading (how do you have a face off between a military industrial complex and simple flesh and bone?), or genocidal, as there's nothing like making it clear to millions of European descended individuals that they should all go back to Europe to really piss the worldwide wellsprings of violence off. As such, I've decided to devote a portion of my near future reading to the voice of indigenous women, if only to reduce the risk of subconsciously avoiding the ongoing issue. In this particular work's case, the theme of amputation gone wrong is even more valuable in this post-election period, as I can guarantee you that the violation of the rights of the indigenous people of my country is only going to get worse here on out. A community in peril abandons a few members in hopes that it has judged correctly and cut off the excess that will hinder the survival of the greater good. Life goes on, the supposed weak inherit the earth, and the snake comes to regret the shedding of its tail. There are not as many reiterations of this trope as there should be, which is understandable if not encouraging in a world bent on mercantile evaluation of souls from day of birth. In the coming years, this excision may very well reach the levels popularly recounted in historical fiction which touch back 80-90 years prior, and the dilution via the terms of grammar nazi and feminazi and so forth will allow the naturally protected to continue to ignore the cries of the excised. Either that, or the electoral college and/or recount facilities will come up with an opinion which differs from a constitutional mandate built in to enhance the value of the votes of slave states. In any case, it's easy to be a realist when one of your realistic options isn't to shoot yourself in the head.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hákon Gunnarsson

    Two Old Woman is retelling of a legend. I have never read, or listened to it told in its original form, so I can't say anything about that, but this is a beautiful novella. Two old women vs. nature may not sound very exciting, but the story is effective. They have to rely on each other to survive. They are old, so not very physically strong, which means they need to find a way to use all their combined skills to make it. I've read this book once and listened to an audiobook version once, and lik Two Old Woman is retelling of a legend. I have never read, or listened to it told in its original form, so I can't say anything about that, but this is a beautiful novella. Two old women vs. nature may not sound very exciting, but the story is effective. They have to rely on each other to survive. They are old, so not very physically strong, which means they need to find a way to use all their combined skills to make it. I've read this book once and listened to an audiobook version once, and liked the story both times.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    How must you live your life? All alone, or with a little help from some friends, you can cling to it no matter what the odds are and if you’re lucky triumph momentarily against death. Then your story will live on as an inspiration and give courage when hope is waning and in that way you would have conquered death. Metaphorically at least. For who knows if these two old women—abandoned by their nomadic tribe during a famine— were not real life characters who were just lost in legend?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Terri Broemm

    I probably shouldn't admit that I didnt " love this little tale". I read it for a book club, never would have chosen it I probably shouldn't admit that I didnt " love this little tale". I read it for a book club, never would have chosen it

  28. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    Velma Wallis records here a legend told her by her mother about two native Alaskan old women abandonned by their tribe, yet through strength of will and calling on skills long unused, against extreme odds, they survive. It is such a powerful story, told with sympathy and wit, but still echoing the rhythm and style of the oral story-telling tradition in which it thrived for generations. I swear I heard a fire crackling as I read! This story told me that there is no limit to one’s ability—certainly Velma Wallis records here a legend told her by her mother about two native Alaskan old women abandonned by their tribe, yet through strength of will and calling on skills long unused, against extreme odds, they survive. It is such a powerful story, told with sympathy and wit, but still echoing the rhythm and style of the oral story-telling tradition in which it thrived for generations. I swear I heard a fire crackling as I read! This story told me that there is no limit to one’s ability—certainly not age—to accomplish in life what one must. Within each individual on this large and complicated world there lives an astounding potential of greatness. Yet it is rare that these hidden gifts are brought to life unless by the chance of fate. Could not sum up better the beauty of this story.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Two old women are part of a migrating Athabaskan Indian tribe during a harsh Arctic winter. The people are starving, and the two old women are abandoned by the group. But the two women don't just sit down in the snow and die. Instead, they struggle to make their way to an old camp they remember as being flush with animals from the past, and with unexpected resolve and determination, the two women build a shelter from the freezing cold, hunt and store food, and make warm mittens and clothing from Two old women are part of a migrating Athabaskan Indian tribe during a harsh Arctic winter. The people are starving, and the two old women are abandoned by the group. But the two women don't just sit down in the snow and die. Instead, they struggle to make their way to an old camp they remember as being flush with animals from the past, and with unexpected resolve and determination, the two women build a shelter from the freezing cold, hunt and store food, and make warm mittens and clothing from the skins of the animals they kill. It's a wonderful story. I was rooting for the women the entire time and they proved themselves to be worthy every step of the way during their trials in the Arctic.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    A great quote from the book is "The body needs food, but the mind needs people." Another is "Within each individual on this large and complicated world there lives an astounding potential for greatness." A great quote from the book is "The body needs food, but the mind needs people." Another is "Within each individual on this large and complicated world there lives an astounding potential for greatness."

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