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

Velma Wallis


Perennial, An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 1993, 2004. ISBN 0060723521.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 11/30/2006

Fiction: Multi-Cultural

Two old women dragging along at the end of the wandering group of Artic nomads, The People, don't do much but complain and take up the time and valuable resources of the others. The winter grows colder; The People grow hungry. Finally, the chief and his council arrive at a decision. The women must be left behind.

The tribe moves on. The women, stunned, sit alone. The daughter of one runs back to leave her mother a thickly stripped moose hide. Her son, the old woman's grandson, risks the chief's anger by leaving his valuable weapon, a hatchet. Left alone with meager supplies and a small fire, the women have nothing to look forward to but death.

So begins Velma Wallis's brief and touching book, Two Old Women. This tale, handed down from generations of Athabaskan Alaskans through Wallis's mother is not a sad one, no matter the darkness of its beginning. The subtitle of the book gives a hint of the story—"An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival." And I might add friendship and human caring. For the two old women of the title do not accept their fate. Rather, using the meager tools left with them, they conquer it. They quit complaining and start acting. They realize their own strengths and will to live. Finally, the women's skills and ingenuity bring salvation to The People.

Wallis, who has written several subsequent books of the legend of her people, crafts the story into a riveting tale with universal appeal. It is a tribute to the human spirit.

This book will be excellent for all women (and men). Surely, it will be an inspiration to young women. And to those of us with a few or many more miles on us, it is an affirmation of the strength we gain with years.

I am giving this book to my sister, who is approaching a significant birthday, in recognition of her own strength for our continuing journey. I believe next summer I'll give it to my granddaughter as a gift commemorating her sixteen birthday.

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