The Roots of the Olive Tree Summary and Reviews

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
    Genre: Novels

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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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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.

Sally G. (Saint Johns, FL)

Savory
This story has five generations of women all in the same home. The story catches you in the beginning and attaches you to one of the women. It progresses to the secrets and loves that women hide in their hearts.
Buy a jar of olives and let your tongue roll around it as your mind wanders through the olive groves.

Deborah P. (Dunnellon, FL)

The Roots of the Olive Tree
This is a unique historical fiction of five generations of women living in northern California. It is unique in that it contemporaneously weaves each woman’s story around the family matriarch as opposed to the usual technique of writing each person's story in chapter form. This is a book that does not read as a debut novel. Ms. Santo has written an outstanding novel that not only kept me awake reading, but woke me up because I felt I was living the lives of the characters. I look forward to many more novels from the author...she is now on my five star must read list. Not to be missed!

Andrienne G. (Azusa Library, CA)

Engaging story about strong women and their secrets
I was very interested in reading this book and it was a satisfying one. For one, the writing is really good--how it flows, what's said, and what's depicted. I rate books poorly even when the plot is strong but the writing is so shoddy. Just like appetizers, this book needs to be savored, you can't rush a fiction book. This book had a huge cast of characters with each of their stories brought to light in each chapter--helpful because each character is given appropriate attention to move the story along. My favorite character is the matriarch of course, her story doesn't have too many twists in it (two of the women had much interesting secrets), but maybe I have a soft spot for great-great-grandmothers. All of the women had great personalities, probably Erin is the least interesting to me, maybe just as well because she doesn't have enough experience and so it is to be expected. This book doesn't highlight the secrets so much as just letting the women's stories unravel. Reading this book feels like a typical gossip session amongst relatives--surprising and intriguing but not too over the top. This is definitely good book club material.

Virginia W. (Cloverdale, CA)

Multigenerational family secrets
This is a book about six generations of one family living together. The plot unfolds in an interesting way and the characterizations are strong. The oldest member is 112 and a subplot is an investigational genetic study into the reason why this "superager" and her female relatives have defied the aging process. But the most interesting facets are the secrets each generation holds. I would heartily recommend this book.

Mary S. (Pinson, AL)

The Roots of the Olive Tree
This was such a wonderful story. The multi-generational family living under the same roof with their complex lives, conflicts, and secrets. I loved the relationships between mothers and daughters; and between grandmothers and granddaughters; each one is unique. These women lived together and thought they knew each other so well; and while each woman’s life may have a skeleton or two in the cupboard, I was most surprised by Elizabeth’s story. I enjoyed Santo’s descriptions of the olive orchards and the idea that the oil could be linked to a longer life. Thirty years ago, I had a priest tell me that he believed drinking olive oil every day would help you live longer. At the time, I did not think too much of it, but while reading this novel I did some research and there seems to be some health benefits to it. It definitely made for an interesting read. I loved this novel and can’t wait to see what Santo’s writes next.

...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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