Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along from mother to daughter for many generations on the upper Yukon River in Alaska, this is the tragic and shocking story--with a surprise ending--of two elderly women abandoned by a migrating tribe that faces starvation brought on by unusually harsh Arctic weather and a shortage of fish and game.
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...
Both the tribe and the old women end up learning a lot about their limits and what is important to them as a result of this abandonment. It was a quick read and a good story. I found myself surprisingly sucked into the tale. I enjoyed the survival elements and hearing about people of that time and how they survived in such harsh conditions.
The writing style is very stark and simple (normally not my favorite style of writing to read) but it matched the style of the tale well.
Overall a well done folktale that I enjoyed reading. I would recommend if you are interested in tribal Alaska, survival, or the process of aging.
Based on an Athabascan legend passed along from mother to daughter for many generations on the upper Yukon River in Alaska, this is the tragic and shocking story--with a surprise ending--of two elderly women abandoned by a migrating tribe that faces starvation brought on by unusually harsh Arctic weather and a shortage of fish and game. The story of survival is told with suspense by Velma Wallis, whose subject matter challenges the taboos of her past. Yet, her themes are modern--empowerment of women, the graying of America, Native American ways.
Together these two women forge a bond of friendship and recall the skills of their younger days, conquering the pain of unused muscles and fear of the unknown to survive even the harshest of conditions. The story comes full circle when they again meet up with their tribe and the chief who once turned them out now finds he and his people have need of their wisdom.
A wonderful book for just about everyone. Full of hope and determination.
Setting: the Arctic Circle, many many generations ago
Another unusually harsh winter was coming to the Arctic Circle. The tribe
was starving. Everywhere they went, they took care of two old women who did
nothing but complain. For the survival of the tribe, the chief decided to
leave the two old women behind. No one voiced dissent. At first the two old
women were in shock. They couldn't believe what had happened. However it
wasn't long before the younger of the two said, "Yes, in their own way 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." This story is based on
an Athabaskan Indian legend passed along from mothers to daughters for many
generations on the upper Yukon River in Alaska. It is told by Velma Wallis,
herself an Athabaskan, and the story of getting this book published is just
as good as the tale itself.
This is a story of adventure, friendship and strength that gives octogenarian readers two beautiful heroines to look up to.
Writing style and quality – 2 stars
Illustrations - +0.5 stars
This novella about two old women (literally) is an Alaskan legend from the Arctic Circle region in the modern day Fort Yukon and Chalkyitsik. While it is a legend, the story is based on realities of survival in the Arctic and the ways of the Native American people, which is in fact referred to as “The People” in the book.
Early in the story, the tribe is suffering during a harsh winter, and the chief/council made the rarely-done decision of leaving two old women behind while the tribe journeyed on. These two women have been cared for by the tribe for many years and are prone to complaining. They were left with all their belongings, including a bundle of babiche and a hatchet. After accepting their predicament, these two made the decision to survive, even if they may ‘die trying’.
The story is expectedly heartwarming. The described skills represent a lifetime of surviving in the outdoors. For the modern mind, it’s almost mind-boggling. Hunting is not just for food, but clothing, shelter, and carriers for water. Parts of a tree provide fire, shelter, baskets, tools. In their spare time, they make clothing, tools, shelter, plus dry and store food for the winter. The most important gem is the realization that their lives are not over yet, that they have a lifetime of skills to leverage and to teach others. Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.
This book is great for anyone who is struggling with aging, a good reminder that life doesn’t end till you die.
“We have learned much during our long lives. Yet there we were in our old age, thinking that we had done our share in life. So we stopped, just like that. No more working like we used to, even though our bodies are still healthy enough to do a little more than we expect of ourselves.”
Style: Could use some polishing by an astute editor, but the narrative is natural and heart-felt.
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.