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

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,042 Ratings  ·  765 Reviews
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
Paperback, Tenth Anniversary Edition, 140 pages
Published June 29th 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published 1993)
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Alaska and Back by Dorothy May MercerTwo Old Women by Velma WallisOrdinary Wolves by Seth KantnerIf You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name by Heather LendeTisha by Robert Specht
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2nd out of 50 books — 72 voters
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44th out of 588 books — 532 voters

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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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 hand
Lynne Spreen
Aug 29, 2014 Lynne Spreen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: midlife
Update: Mom loved it, and I am so grateful that she and I share a love of fiction!


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
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?
Sandra Shwayder
Dec 09, 2008 Sandra Shwayder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Indian legends, wilderness, feminism
Recommended to Sandra by: my daughter
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 ...more
Syl. A.k.a Topo di biblioteca
Finally I visited Alaska, one of my dream literary destinations. The visit was short, but memorable. This is the true story of two Alaskan nomadic elderly women who were left to die by the tribal chieftain after a collective council decision, perhaps as a strategic survival move during the very lean and bitter winter. These women, despite their advanced ages (75 and 80), somehow found their will to live, and utilizing their collective knowledge of 150 odd years, managed to survive for more than ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Oct 26, 2013 Mary Ronan Drew rated it liked it
The other day at our neighborhood's annual progressive dinner I met a new neighbor who recommended a book, Two Old Women. I tracked it down at once and today I read it. And it's wonderful.

Written by Velma Wallis, who was born on the Arctic Circle in Fort Yukon, Alaska, Two Old Women a story her mother told her when she was a child about the Athabascan people before the influence of European culture.

The People, a nomadic band of Athabascan Indians, are struggling to make it through a particularly
Sep 11, 2009 kelley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009, book-club
This story is delightful. The author wrote with such skill that I felt I sat at her feet, while gazing into the embers of glowing fire while she told the tale of these two brave women. She literally took me to this place in her memory. Ms. Wallis makes a valid point in her introductory of this book that the oral histories of our people and families need to be preserved. She also acknowledges the elders of her tribe and gives them respect in her dedication.

I was reading this book while waiting in
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Jul 24, 2010 Elizabeth (Alaska) rated it really liked it
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 ea
Jane Stewart
Nov 08, 2014 Jane Stewart rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Pleasant and enjoyable. It’s short. It reads like a fairy tale about betrayal, courage, resilience, survival, and inspiration.

This was a tribal legend passed down through word-of-mouth until Velma Wallis put it in writing and published it in 1993. An Alaskan tribe believed their two oldest women were useless and left them behind to die. But the old women survived and thrived. I won’t spoil the ending other than to say it was happy. Instead of sitting still the women pushed themselves and said “a
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.
Jan 26, 2011 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, travel
While this may have been a smaller book, it was filled with depth. While it looks like a children's book with its pictures and large text, this was found in the non-fiction section and could probably be considered mythology. It's based on an Athabascan Indian legend that the author's mother had passed down to her. The story inspired her so much, that Wallis wanted to put it down to share with others.

Two older women have been abandoned by their tribe and left for dead because they are thought of
Jun 28, 2009 Chana rated it really liked it
Recommended to Chana by: book crossing
This is a legend told to a daughter by her mother and it feels like that: that the reader is snuggled down for a bedtime story of power, morals and significance. Two old women, members of a tribe who live up near the Yukon river, are abandoned one cold winter as too burdensome to the tribe when there is not enough to eat. It is a shock but these two women pull together and survive. The book recounts the decision of the tribe and what it cost the chief to make such a decision and how the people o ...more
 Merlin Sandhill
Dec 22, 2012 Merlin Sandhill rated it really liked it
The book Two Old Women by Velma Wallis a fantastic book about survival, betrayal, and courage. The author, Velma Wallis, tells the story of two old women with clarity and detail, leaving no loose ends. Velma Wallis herself lived in Fort Yukon, a remote part of Alaska, which is probably why the story seems so realistic and heartfelt.
Two Old Women is basically the story of two old women, betrayed by their tribe in the midst of winter. The old women, Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’, must survive in the harsh
Truly amazing little book and so very, very well written. Every adult and every young adult should read this book, written by Velma Wallis, a younger descendant of her Athabascan Indian tribe. The story and legend (and I can see that there has to be some truth to this legend) revolves around an eighty year old woman and a seventy five year old woman.

From the dustjacket: "Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River area
This is a small book that comes with a big message. I liked the story and the inspiration it provokes. It is an Athabaskan Indian Lengend that has been passed on between mothers and daughters for generations. It is the shocking tale of two elderly women who are abandoned by their migrating tribe. The other tribe members feel that the two women are holding them back. They also feel that the two old women are not worth the food they are eating. Because of food shortages, the tribe decides to just ...more
Nov 28, 2009 Mazel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contes
Née en Alaska, dans une tribu athabaskane, Velma Wallis a été élevée dans les valeurs traditionnelles de son peuple, bercée des légendes transmises de mère en fille depuis des générations. Parmi elles, Le Cadeau du froid, dont Velma a choisi d'écrire le récit des années plus tard, pour rendre hommage à son peuple d'Alaska. Avec des mots simples et justes, elle rappelle l'importance de l'entraide, la richesse de l'expérience et l'incroyable pouvoir de la solidarité et de la volonté. Par sa sincér ...more
Jul 18, 2015 Amie rated it liked it
This was my "get a librarian recommendation" book for our library summer reading. It was okay, and dove tailed nicely with the book "Spring Chicken" which I recently read. The whole "use it or lose it" idea.
Oct 15, 2012 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Alaskan Legend Lovers
The survival story of two elderly Athabaskan women abandoned by their tribe during a time of famine. I will say no more as this story is so short I would give all away. A wonderful, inspirational Alaskan legend. The drawings throughout the book and on the cover were done by Athabaskan, James Grant, lend a sense of the culture to the tale.

In addition, the story at the end of the book of how the book got published inspired.

This book only takes about an hour or so to read, less for faster readers,
Mar 23, 2016 Cathy rated it really liked it
From two frail women into two spunky women, this story is for all ages. I picked this up because of my upcoming trip to Alaska but am now reminded of the beauty of folktales and legends and how wisdom is passed down generation to generation.

pg 16 They think that we are too old and I say if we are going to die, my friend, let us die trying, not sitting.

pg 31 the women went back in time to recall the skills and knowledge that they had been taught from early childhood

In addition to the
 Barb Bailey
Jan 21, 2014 Barb Bailey rated it really liked it
Velma Wallis , a decendent of a a Yukon tribe writes this legend of 2 old women who are abandoned by their tribe for one whole year. The 2 women decide if they were left to die they would die trying to survive. Through their determination and hard work they manage to not only survive but thrive. When they are later found by their tribe they are then held in high regard .A story of survival, determination and forgiveness
Diane Lynn
Apr 17, 2013 Diane Lynn rated it really liked it
A very good story. This is an Alaskan legend which had been handed down by word of mouth until the author wrote this book. It is about two old women, abandoned by their tribe, and what becomes of them. It is a story of strength and maybe survival. I really can't say more than that without giving away the outcome. It is also about the journey these two women take.
Marlene French
Dec 21, 2015 Marlene French rated it it was amazing
Shelves: folklore
This short little book is a real gem! I truly enjoyed it and found myself following along with the "Two Old Women" on their long journey into survival! I have a thing for Indian history and so this was one I just really enjoyed! I would love to now read her other one. Without giving the story away, it follows two elderly Alaskan Indian women who have been cast out so their clan could better survive hunger and other threatening issues and the way they return to the lessons learned in their youth ...more
Dec 27, 2011 SheLove2Read rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this a few years ago - just adding to my books. Good story about not forgetting the wisdom and knowledge our elders can offer us.
Terri Broemm
Jan 29, 2016 Terri Broemm rated it it was ok
I probably shouldn't admit that I didnt " love this little tale". I read it for a book club, never would have chosen it
A fascinating retelling of an oral tradition from the Athbascan people who live around and above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. There, winter is harsh, especially for a nomadic people. The chief of the tribe decides to abandon two old women who had spent their days in complaining and criticizing, in hopes that that would free up more food and resources for the younger people. The two old women decide to take matters into their own hands once they're left behind, and against all odds, they manage t ...more
Apr 10, 2014 Evelyn rated it it was amazing
Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis. This book was a very easy read. It is about two old women from an Alaskan Tribe that were left behind by their people because the tribe thought that they were a hindrance to them. They complained, moved to slow and ate food and supplies that could be used for the younger people to survive through the winter months. So they voted to leave them behind to fend for themselves until they died of starvation or froze to ...more
Mar 18, 2014 Mona rated it really liked it
This short novel can be read within two hours depending on your reading speed. It is a simple story with a great meaningful ending. The story is based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed down through generations of mothers to daughters. The setting is the Yukon River Valley in Alaska. The winter is brutal and the tribe is starving as they search for food. The leaders and family of two old women decide it is in the best interest of the group to abandon the two old women. Once they get over the ...more
Dec 27, 2012 Paige rated it really liked it
If I were listening to this story being told aloud in the oral tradition, I'd be blown away. But I guess I have kinda different standards for books. I think I would have liked it better if it were either shorter or longer. I suppose that's kind of a weird thing to say, but because it's a fable it's sort of flat (all fables are--not knocking this one). However if we're going the fable route, there were some superfluous parts that didn't really advance the story. It could have been fleshed out mor ...more
Oct 23, 2012 Varjak, rated it really liked it
The author of Two Old Women, Velma Wallis was born and still lives in the outskirts of Fort Yukon. She created the story from a legend her mother used to tell her in her youth. Personally, my favorite part in this legend is when The People end up having to depend upon the women rather than vise versa.
The legend takes place in cold snowy northern Alaska several years ago.Because that certain winter is so cold,The People make an agreement to leave the old and supposedly helpless women.This part
Dominic Laflamme
Dec 20, 2012 Dominic Laflamme rated it really liked it
Two Old Women
The book, Two Old Women, written by Velma Wallis, is a story that was told by her mother when she was a little girl. Velma Wallis was born in Fort Yukon, Alaska, where they have work for their food. Her mother would tell her stories and including this legend to her. When she grew up, she could still remember the legend she was told. The reason she wrote the book because it told her that there is no limit to one’s ability-certainly not age-to accomplish in life what one must.
In th
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Velma Wallis (born 1960) is a Gwich'in Athabascan Indian and bestselling U.S. novelist. Her work has been translated into 17 languages.

She was born and raised in a remote Alaskan village near Fort Yukon, approximately 200 km north-east of Fairbanks. This location could be accessed only by riverboat, airplane, snowmobile or dogsled. Velma grew up among twelve siblings. Her father died when she was
More about Velma Wallis...

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“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.” 8 likes
“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.” 3 likes
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