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The Roots of the Olive Tree: A Novel

The Roots of the Olive Tree: A Novel

3.6 71
by Courtney Miller Santo

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An extraordinary new voice in contemporary woman’s fiction, Courtney Miller Santo makes her magnificent debut with The Roots of the Olive Tree, a novel that will delight fans of Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and the works of Kristin Hannah.

Set in a house on an olive grove in


An extraordinary new voice in contemporary woman’s fiction, Courtney Miller Santo makes her magnificent debut with The Roots of the Olive Tree, a novel that will delight fans of Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and the works of Kristin Hannah.

Set in a house on an olive grove in northern California, The Roots of the Olive Tree is a beautiful, touching story that brings to life five generations of women—including an unforgettable 112-year-old matriarch determined to break all Guinness longevity records—the secrets and lies that divide them and the love that ultimately ties them together.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Anna Keller's most ardent wish is to be the oldest person in the world. She's 112 and her chances are pretty good. In fact, five generations of Keller women (mother Anna, daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin) live together in California's Sacramento Valley, and a geneticist is coming to study their longevity. Although the women appear ordinary, they defy the odds with their unusual life span, and each has secrets that both define and threaten to derail their idyllic existence. When Erin, the youngest Keller, arrives, pregnant and alone, at Hill House after being in Italy for two years, her unexpected return stirs up long-dormant feelings among the women and brings all their guilt, remorse, and secrets to the surface. Her mother, Deb, will be up for parole soon, and Erin is determined to help her secure her release from prison. VERDICT Santo's debut offers a compelling look at five strong women. While the geneticist's findings, which are interspersed throughout the book, could prove distracting to some readers, overall this solid novel will appeal to fans of women's fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 5/5/12; library marketing; 100,000-copy first printing.]—Cynthia A. Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC
Kirkus Reviews
Five generations of unusually long-lived women have family troubles in Santo's oddly static debut. With fourth-generation Deborah just paroled after 20 years in jail for killing her husband, and her daughter Erin about to have a child with no husband in sight, not to mention matriarch Anna (age 112) only one death away from being the oldest person in the world, there ought to be more excitement in the house they share overlooking their olive groves in northern California. Instead, there's simmering resentment and whiny adolescent complaining, which sounds especially self-indulgent coming from 42-year-old Deborah. Granted, her mother, Callie, is thoroughly nasty almost all the time, despite the painkillers she constantly pops for a leg crippled in a bizarre accident, which the author refers to in frustrating fragments over more than 200 pages before finally deigning to tell us exactly what happened. Deborah's violent quarrel with Callie in the hospital where Erin is giving birth is the novel's only truly dramatic scene; the fact that Deborah then jumps parole, disappears and is barely ever referred to again is regrettably typical of Santo's clumsy handling of plot and character. Amrit Hashmi, the geneticist who comes to study Anna and her descendants in the hope of discovering the secret of their longevity, at first seems like something of a nut, judging by a Washington Post column jarringly inserted in the text. Amorous emails exchanged between him and Callie do little to improve our opinion of either, though we're later invited to think of their affair as a life-changing event. Other events that seem to merit attention, such as the birth of Erin's son breaking the line of four firstborn daughters, are not commented on at all. Transcripts of news videotape and a closing folktale are other examples of the author's failure to maintain coherent structure, pacing or tone. Some nice descriptions of the olive groves, but this is too scattershot to make for emotionally satisfying fiction.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

Meet the Author

Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing to college students and lives in Memphis with her husband, two children, and retired racing greyhound.

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The Roots of the Olive Tree 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had read the free excerpt of this book and decided to buy the full length version. It was very well written, proof read and edited, which was very nice. Many down loadable books are so bad about erratta, it becomes annoying. I was going to write about the plot, but this story is so delightfully complex and the lives of the multi generational women so tightly inter- woven, it was difficult to write about, without giving away the best parts of each life. Mim, Anna, Elizabeth, Calliope, Deborah, Erin and Erin's child, each held thier secrets and suffered love, loss, fear, disappointment and anger, while always searching for the special something each human looks for, to prove they have worth and purpose, a reason for being created. This book me laugh, cry and celebrate along with this diverse group of women, who all lived in the same house most of their lives. I loved this book. I think there is a second one and I am going to purchase it as well. This one, I archived for a reread. AD
prsnyder67 More than 1 year ago
The Roots of the Olive Tree is an extraordinary book that revolves around the lives of five generations of the Keller family. The author takes us through their past and present lives with well-developed characters and a solid plot line that catches your attention and keeps you reading, even when you need to put the book down. The use of the Olive roots and the strength of a family bond is a beautiful metaphor and used brilliantly in the story. Courtney Miller Santo has written a unique and eloquent story and I would recommend this read to any genre of reader. This is a moderate paced book, however, it keeps you wanting more and the desire to know what is to come next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Overall a good book. A little hard to follow at times, but once I realized the woman's names were alphabetical by age, it got easier to keep track of who was who. Sometimes it felt like the author would get ahead of herself,I would be confused, but then she would explain a few sentences later.
jbarr5 More than 1 year ago
Roots of The Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo I was first attracted to this book because of the name, olive tree in the title. Coming from a family of nurserymen this would be right up my alley. Love the proverbs and how they are useful to the olive pickers. This is a story about 5 generations of women and there is a geneticist coming to find out why they live so long. He hopes to find out all their secrets. Love hearing about the olive trees, nursery/grafting and why their products are so useful. Picking olives sounds to me like what knitting does for me, very calming. Such great treasures in the attic. One of the best books out of hundreds I've read this year. So fascinating to learn all about the DNA, the mutations and what they can attribute it to. Love hearing about the location of where the book takes place as it's new to me. Like how each of the 5 sisters got a large devoted part in this book. At the end it just all the mysteries come together and there are no longer any secrets to uncover. For a book to be worthwhile to me it has to do two things: 1. take me away to a new place, describe it so well that i can feel myself there. This book has done that to the point where I can reach up and feel the olives as they ripen, walking the rows of trees. and 2. learn something new. This book has done that as well. Techniques of grafting the tree branches and the treasures they find in the attic. One of the top 2 books out of hundreds I've read since Jan.
goodgodwin More than 1 year ago
This savory story invokes the spirit of sisterhood and motherhood within the theme of longevity, asks whether time has less significance the more you have of it, and explores the way that might shape familial relationships. The stories of Anna, Bets, and Erin were the most satisfying with the best secrets to reveal. I loved the metaphor of the olive grove- very well done with some lovely descriptive passages. It's sweet and a bit racy, endearing and somewhat unexpected. Roots of the Olive Tree is a taste of bold, fruity sweetness with a slightly bitter finish; it will make an excellent gift for all of the women in my life. I highly recommend it.
bluesi More than 1 year ago
I am so glad that I discovered this book. The characters have great personalities and they keep the story interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very detailed characters. I loved the interaction between the five generations. Kept me interested as little family secrets kept cropping up until the very end. Good book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SoccerDad_20 More than 1 year ago
This is a story about family and real relationships that unravels in a way that keeps the reader engaged and wanting more. I remember the day, as a young adult, that I had a revelation about my own mother: I suddenly realized that she had feelings and hope and dreams that I had been oblivious to my entire life! This story is about removing the filter and recognizing those overlooked “real person” aspects of those around us who we take for granted based on their roles in our lives. What a gift! Aside from the secrets revealed, the most interesting thing about the book is the way that elements of the supernatural (longevity and olive oil, the relocation of an entire town, a mythical turtle) are related and engrained in everyday reality. Think of Gabriel García Márquez. The setting is also beautifully related and becomes a character in its own way. If you’re from a family of storytellers, you’ll love this.
jpcoggins More than 1 year ago
After reading the description for this book, I expected to really like it. Why DID the women of this family live so long? Did they eat right? Was it the olive oil? Did they live moral, clean lives? Was it their strong family relationships, especially mothers and daughters? The book was nothing like I hoped for. It was a downer, depressing and I was sorry that I had wasted time reading all the way to the end. I love to read and rarely write a negative review. There are so many wonderful stories out there. I do not recommend this book.
celiapmason More than 1 year ago
From the very start, walking into the orchard with Anna, I was hooked. This is a magical story, almost sacred in it's gentle telling. Each woman in the family of women in Roots of the Olive Tree has a story, she has her secrets, her pains, regrets, joys and hopes. Don't get me wrong, there's violence too and love and death and life. I could not figure out how it would and and I didn't want it to, but it was so perfect, yet I want more. Highly recommend this author's first book and can't wait to see what's next from her!!
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings It was hard at the beginning to remember the lineage, but once I established the order, the family became this one living being with quite a history.  I loved when a piece of their personal history was shared and it made the reader realize why the character is reacting the way they do and how the generations decisions before them affected them.  This was definitely a story that revolved around characters that had to have depth and soul and the author did just that!
BookReflections More than 1 year ago
In Roots of the Olive Tree we follow five women as the navigate their life's challenges and secrets.  Anna, the matriarch, simply wants to live long enough to be the oldest person alive.  When a geneticist arrives looking to discover the secret to both their longevity and their good health, she withholds perhaps the biggest secret of all.  Bets, Anna's daughter, keeps the secrets and soothes the hearts of everyone but her own daughter.  Callie, Bet's daughter, lives a life of emptiness. After a airplane crash that changes Callie's life forever, Callie relies on prescription pills to get her through life.  Deb, Callie's daughter, has been in prison for the last twenty years wanting to be free to be with her daughter.  And finally, Erin, Deb's daughter, finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy and a void from growing up without her parents.  The women grow up and older together but separate as they don't always understand the choices of the others.  Amid a story about generations of women, we find an understated history of the importance of the olive tree to the Keller women. It's very difficult to describe and review a book such as this, but I enjoyed every turn of the page.  I didn't love all of the women but I loved the premise.  I loved that Anna was 112 years old and that her perspective and history contrasted with Erin's 22 year old life and decisions.  Every time I opened the book, I never really know what would happen next.  Everything happened in a quite way.  Even major events seemed written to be understated and simple.  Sometimes I had to reread a paragraph to ensure I really did read it right.  Every few chapters or so we'd see the next part of the story told from a different point of view until we had traveled the story through the lens of all the women.  I liked this method but not all of the characters were created equal so I enjoyed some perspectives more than others.  Additionally, each switch in perspective also corresponded in a jump in time.  This felt unnecessary and I started to feel like I was just being moved along.  Each character usually ended on some dramatic note, yet the reader didn't get to pick up where the character left off.   It left me feeling unsatisfied.  The historical aspect and flashbacks were one of my favorite parts of this read. Overall, I enjoyed the premise and felt like this read stands out leading to an enjoyable reads.  It certainly could have been more fleshed out but I'd still recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was poorly written book. The characters were underdeveloped and the story line was very difficult to follow. Would not recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would have given 5 stars but i dont feel like the story was finished. Left a too many loose ends.
TaggartJ More than 1 year ago
Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  When I opened the book and saw the circle diagram with the five generations of women and a short biography of each, I was intrigued by two questions: 1) Why would someone name their four sons Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and then name their daughter something like Calliope? 2) What was the story behind the women who had shot her husband?  It turned out that my first question wasn’t answered until the very end, and the answer to the second question was the most brutal part of the book.  But the stories of these women had already hooked me in by the time I got to those answers.  It was a very believable story, despite the fact that these women were healthfully living into their 110’s.   With each woman, the most interesting and telling parts of their character, to me, seemed to be the relationship that mattered most to them in their life, and the secrets that they had kept.  Each woman was practically defined by a specific relationship in her life that defined all of her other relationships.  I would go into detail, but I don’t want to give away the book.  Each woman had some kind of secret as well that pained them and made them behave differently around different people.  It made me think about the relationships in my life, and which ones were the defining ones and if I had any secrets that make me who I am.  I think we all do, to a degree.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had alot of mystery and you could see it happen today!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JacksonvilleReader More than 1 year ago
I passed over this book a number of times because the topic didn't quite grab me, finally purchasing it when the book landed on the bargain table. I found the premise and approach by having the different voices interesting, but the overall story only somewhat good. To me too much time was spent on Deb's story and her problems. The premise of a family of women living long lives turned out to be a minimal focus, which is what I thought the book was about. By the end of the book I was quite tired of the characters, except Anna whose character never was fully developed in my mind. One lesson learned is that multi-generations of families living together doesn't seem like a good idea. These women didn't even seem to like each other, so why should I?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually enjoyed this book, in spite of some reviews I'd read about folks not resolving issues by the end. Life doesn't always resolve issues, and the learning is in the journey; some folks get there, others not. But I found their struggles to be interesting, and having a few "strong" oldest daughters in my family, I could relate to the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago