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Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal,…

Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival (1993)

by Velma Wallis

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Sometimes "little" books are the best -- this retelling of an old Athabaskan tale is spare and beautiful. Well worth the read. ( )
  sdunford | Sep 19, 2014 |
Alhamdulillah, I picked this up at the right time. I felt guilty for it sitting on my shelf for so long, but really it was waiting for this time. My own decrepitude, whining, and recent knee injury has made me feel like my time is over, that's it, I'm old, ain't going to get better. The story of these women, abandoned, in their old age by their people during hungry times gives me courage. They survived! They challenged their bodies and drew upon their skills and knowledge, that lay dormant when they were with their tribe, as grumpy complacent elders. This book made my heart ache, but it also made me proud of them, and of their tribe (in the end). ( )
  MochiMama | Aug 21, 2013 |
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 perjorative 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 villified 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... ( )
1 vote AbigailAdams26 | Jun 20, 2013 |
I loved this little book!
Started reading and could not let it go. The legend just grabbed me.

On the one hand I completely understand that life many centuries ago in a village above the arctic circle is completely different from how I live now. I also understand that tough decisions are there to be made. Not only then, but also now.
But.... leaving behind two old women struck me as very harsh. Neccessary, but still harsh. Above all the fact that the family members of one of them did not have anough courage to stand up for them. Also understandable, when I look beyond my own life boundaries: fear of being left behind themselves, killed, become an outcast.

The story itself was not very difficult, but it still made me want to read on, curious to know if they would continue their fight with nature and age or if they would give up after all.

I'm glad that everything worked out well: that they survived that first very cold winter, digging up the skills that were thought them in their childhood days.
And when spring and summer came, they even managed to stock so much food that it was more than they would be able to eat themselves.

When the story returned to The People, it said that the tribe was not doing okay. No food for yet another winter, very cold weather. Actually, it was no surprise that the chief then decided to return to the place they left the women behind, wanting to find out what had happened to them. Not finding any trace, he sent out their guide with a few other young men to look where they might have gone.

Of course the guide finds them and after clearing out mistrust, anger and the feelings of betrayal, the women are 'reunited with The People, who come and live nearby, but leave the two women in peace. Visiting, listening to their stories and finally accepting them as wise elderly.

The women on their part learned that they had been doing things wrongly too, for quite some time. They had been acting like life had ended for them, complaining, making life difficult for those looking after them. When they were suddenly abandoned and left to take care of themselves, they discovered that their bodies could take a whole lot, that they were not nearly as weak as they thought they were.

That's what I liked in particular about this legend: the learning and discovering that was done on both sides of the 'camp'. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is an inspiring survival story, with lessons in human nature included! ( )
  emmee1000 | Jan 21, 2013 |
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This book is dedicated to all of the elders whom I have known and who have made an impression in my mind with their wisdom, knowledge and uniqueness.
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Each day after cutting wood we would sit and talk in our small tent on the bank at the mouth of the Porcupine River, near where it flows into the Yukon. (Introduction)
The air stretched tight, quiet and cold over the vast land. (Chapter 1)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060723521, Paperback)

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).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:26 -0400)

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Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival is a classic Athabascan Indian tale of survival, filled with suspense and wisdom as told by Velma Wallis, an outstanding Native American writer. Her style is a refreshing blend of contemporary and traditional, and her choice of subject matter challenges the taboos of her past. Yet her themes are modern -- empowerment of women, the aging of America, and a growing interest in Native American values. Based on a legend told and retold for many generations in the remote Yukon River region of northeast Alaska, this is the tragic and shocking story (with an unexpected upbeat ending) of two elderly women who are abandoned by a migrating band facing starvation because of unusually harsh Arctic weather and a shortage of fish and game.… (more)

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