The Roots of the Olive Tree: Book summary and reviews of The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo

The Roots of the Olive Tree

A Novel

By Courtney Miller Santo

The Roots of the Olive Tree
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2012,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Set in northern California, a beautiful and touching debut novel that brings to life five generations of women, the secrets and lies, that divide them and the love that ultimately bring them together.

Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women - a line of daughters unbroken - living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California.

Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest living woman in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: all are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone.

But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. There are some truths that need to stay hidden, she believes, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals their truth self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy. And it is about to become more complicated now that Erin, the youngest, is back, alone and pregnant, after two years abroad with an opera company. Her return and the arrival of the geneticist who has come to study the Keller family ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncover revelations that will shakes them all to their roots.

Told from varying viewpoints, Courtney Miller Santo's compelling and evocative debut novel captures the joys and sorrows of family the love, secrets, disappointments, jealousies, and forgiveness that tie generations to one other.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"An impressive debut that explores the importance of family, the destructiveness of secrets, and the ultimate liberation of the truth." - Booklist

"Some nice descriptions of the olive groves, but this is too scatter shot to make for emotionally satisfying fiction." - Kirkus Reviews

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Louise J
Superbly Crafted Debut Novel!!
For a debut novel, Courtney Miller Santo has done a remarkable job in writing this novel. The story was superbly engaging, the characters were very well developed, and really gave a believable voice of each of the women. I won’t have any trouble recommending The Roots of the Olive Tree to everyone I know. I loved the cover of this book and it was an all-round super read! I was sorry to see it end.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Judy W. (Tucker, GA)
Roots of the Olive Tree
This novel was a good read, but nothing exceptional. It is an intriguing theory which is set forth by the author. Although the author sought to leave the reader with a surprise ending, I thought it was too far-fetched.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Betsy R. (Gig Harbor, WA)
One of the summer's best
I purposely saved my copy of The Roots of the Olive Tree for a vacation because I could tell it would be the kind of book that be perfect-and it was. I love family stories, particularly when they center around women as I have three sisters and three daughters. Much of the family story resonated with me but I also liked the setting and the background of the olives and all that goes into growing, processing and marketing them. I would definitely recommend this book to my book club.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Bonnie D. (Brecksville, OH)
Roots of the Olive Tree
Meet five generations of intriguing women who live together in the old family home in an olive grove in northern California. I was immediately drawn into the world and history of these women, especially 112-year-old Anna and her 90-year-old daughter, Bets. As their stories unfolded, I needed to keep reading to discover more about their past and family history. The writing is strong and nicely flows from one woman’s story to another. The Kellers are far from perfect. They have long kept secrets and strained relationships, but they are deeply connected by their DNA. Anna tells her great, great granddaughter Erin that “roots” are important whether they belong to a tree or to a family. Book discussion groups will have plenty to talk about.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Jacqueline S. (Gladstone, MO)
A Good Read
I enjoyed this book, it had the important ingredients: strong characters that I cared about and was interested in and a good story that moved along. The author had me involved from the beginning, and I was curious to know what the outcome of the different situations with each character would be. I was disappointed with the ending: the trip to Austrailia was never described or really discussed-and it was a big, important piece of Anna's story. The last chapter felt tacked on as a quick ending for the book. After investing in these women's lives, I wanted to know what happened to them in more detail. I also was disappointed that Bets died-I realize the symobolism of that-the end of secrets, etc. BUT, it was not the end of secrets and the break in that amazing line of women was a let down. This book was still a good read and it will be fun to see what the author comes up with in her next novel.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Joy N. (Gilbert, AZ)
The Roots of the Olive Tree
I did enjoy this book. The story told from various viewpoints kept me engaged. There were several twists and turns that I didn't expect. A very entertaining summer read.

...19 more reader reviews

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Courtney Miller Santo learned to share the stories that come to her from her great-grandmother, who lives in Northern California. She teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she received her MFA. She received a BA in journalism from Washington and Lee University, where she learned the limits of true stories, and although born and raised in Portland, Oregon, she's spent most of her adult life in the South, where she learned that not all stories are about kings and their palaces. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review, Irreantum, Sunstone, and Segullah. Visit her at www.courtneysanto.com.

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