Books by Velma Wallis

Released: Oct. 15, 1993

Enchanting retelling—and a 1993 Western States Book Award winner—of a tribal legend about two old women, left behind to die, who instead went on to survive and thrive. Wallis—one of 13 siblings with their roots in the Athabaskan tribe of Alaska—used to listen to her mother tell stories every night after the day's hard work was done. The story of the two old women was a favorite: In a winter of famine, the tribe decides to leave behind two elderly women, who although mobile and somewhat productive, complain constantly and require assistance. Some people are shocked and distressed, but no one, including the daughter of one of the women, speaks up, afraid of precipitating violence in the tribe. As the tribe marches off, the two women, 75 and 80 years old, vow they will ``die trying.'' They manage to catch a few rabbits and a squirrel to sustain them, then set off to a campsite miles away where, they recall, food is more abundant. They reach their goal, survive the winter, and spend the summer laying in a store of foodstuffs that will eventually sustain the whole tribe when it returns in search of them. Wallis recounts the tale here in simple but vivid detail, describing a life of unremitting labor in an extraordinary landscape. The story speaks to many modern concerns—abandonment or isolation of old men and women in nursing homes and retirement communities; the elderly's perhaps unwitting view of themselves as a privileged elite, but one which greatly underestimates its capabilities; the way in which the greatest good for the greatest number can lead to injustice and even cruelty, and in which trust, once broken, takes time and hard work to repair. Full of adventure, suspense, and obstacles overcome—an octogenarian version of Thelma and Louise triumphant. (Illustrations) Read full book review >