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Book review: 'Two Old Women'

Posted: May 15, 2014 - 12:01am
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Editor’s note: Dee Longenbaugh wrote this review at the request of a local group in celebration of May as Older Americans’ Month. It is reprinted here with her permission.

Your reviewer read Velma Wallis’ “Two Old Women” when it came out. At the time, it was widely said the Gwich’in people, Wallis’s home group, were angry over the theme of the book, it was assumed because the two old women of the story were left behind to starve to death. This was a common way long ago of dealing with Athabaskan starvation times. The children must be saved, and if one or two elderly people, usually women, died, then so be it. The elders died, proud they had kept the babies from starvation.

A re-read gave more grounds for the criticism. In order for the story to flow, the women had to be angry at their desertion and determined to survive. They not only did, but I will not spoil the ending except to say it is a happy one.

The writing is excellent; we can all be pleased that Wallis, a Gwich’in herself, of course, has continued with two more books so far, both deservedly well received. We can only wish her success in explaining the traditional culture of the Gwich’in Athabaskan people of Alaska.

For far too long the first people of Alaska have either had their lives explained by white people of little knowledge or anthropologists, also outsiders. Most refreshing to have explanations from the people themselves. We can only hope the idea spreads.

• Dee Longenbaugh is the owner of Observatory Books.

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