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

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  3,521 ratings  ·  678 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
Best Books on Alaska
2nd out of 43 books — 66 voters
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman AlexieBeyond Oria Falls by Sheryl SealLove Medicine by Louise ErdrichCeremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Native American Fiction
48th out of 513 books — 483 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Lynne Spreen
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
Mary Ronan Drew
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
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
Jane Stewart
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.
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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 ea
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
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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,
Sandra Shwayder
Dec 09, 2008 Sandra Shwayder rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
 Barb Bailey
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Savannah N.
The novel Two Old Women, written by Velma Wallis, is an Alaska legend about betrayal, courage, and survival. Velma Wallis is one out of 13 from her family in Fort Yukon and has taken this folktale and made it her own.

In the novel, two old women who are always complaining, are abandoned by their tribe. They have to rely on old skills to survive the deadly winter that awaits them. The novel also shows many examples of how the two old women, Chi’idzigyaak and Sa’, stay alive in the Alaskan Wilderne
It has been decided that the two old women will be left behind. In the Alaskan wilderness, this means a certain death. All of The People are shocked, especially the to old women. But times are tough and there isn't enough food--the old women who only complain are simply a drag on the rest. The two old women are speechless as they watch the rest of the group pack up and move on without them. After recovering from the surprise, they make a decision: these two women will not die without a fight. An ...more
I had read this book before, but when I saw a newer version at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, I couldn't resist. When I got home, I read the whole book in one sitting. It's just a fantastic story, about two old aboriginal women who are abandoned by their starving tribe in Alaska and, rather than roll themselves up in their hides and die, decide to go down fighting. It would make a wonderful movie and I'm surprised nobody has jumped on it yet. At 127 pages it's a short yet gripping read.
Based on an ancient Athabascan legend about two old, complaining women left behind one starving winter before the white man came to the Yukon.
I love what Willis has to say about storytelling : ". . . . We would always end with Mom telling me a story. (There I was, long past my youth, and my mother still told me bedtime stories!) . . . . Stories are gifts given by an elder to a younger person. Unfortunately, this gift is not given, not received, a often today because many of your youth are occ
The book Two Old Women is a legend by novelist Velma Wallis. This book is based off an Athabaskan group called the Gwitch'in tribe. The book is based off of one of their stories.

The main plot of Two Old Women is that two old women get abandoned by their tribe of
Alaskan native tribe of nomads while they're looking for a winter home. My favorite character
is ch'idziggyaak for two reasons. My first reason is because she complained so much it was
funny. my second reason I always had troble pronou
I can appreciate that this legend would be important for the Athabaskan people but I think it was probably better shared in the oral tradition. For me, in this written form, it seemed overly long, repetitive, strangely flat and simplistic. Simplistic enough that it read as though it was a book intended for the primary grades. I kept imagining it more in its original form as an oral story with the natural cadences and vocal repetitions you would find in that kind of telling and wishing that that ...more
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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...
Bird Girl & the Man Who Followed the Sun: An Athabaskan Indian Legend from Alaska Raising Ourselves: A Gwitch'in Coming of Age Story from the Yukon River Zwei Alte Frauen / Das Vogelmädchen Das Vogelmädchen Und Der Mann, Der Der Sonne Folgte Roman

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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.” 7 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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