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The Roots of the Olive Tree

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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.

308 pages, Hardcover

First published August 21, 2012

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About the author

Courtney Miller Santo

8 books78 followers
Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she received her MFA. She has a BA in journalism from Washington and Lee University and although born and raised in Portland, Oregon, she’s spent most of her adult life in the South. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review, Irreantum, Sunstone and Segullah. Her debut novel THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE will be published this year by William Morrow. For more information please visit www.courtneysanto.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 641 reviews
Profile Image for Victoria.
2,512 reviews53 followers
September 4, 2012
The description of the book - a story surrounding five living generations of women - appealed on that very women’s fiction level. The synopsis hinted at hidden secrets along with this very interesting family dynamic that brings all five of these women back under the same Californian roof. Santo broke her narrative into five sections - one section for each generation’s P.O.V. - plus a bonus epilogue from the perspective of the sixth generation. Unfortunately, the secrets revealed came surprisingly early in the book. The largest downfall, however, was the ending - nothing resolved, and the epilogue raised more questions than it answered! Of the characters introduced, only two have reached actual conclusions by the end of the book - none of the other characters came close to reaching any sort of resolution. And a large event planned for towards the end and its lack of follow-through was particularly frustrating.

The issue of longevity here played an interesting theme. But for those at all familiar with genetics, the longevity here is played more like magic than science. Though this is definitely fiction, it would have felt like a more authentic story if Santo had left the science alone. The scrambled explanation about the longevity being gender-specific doesn’t actually work... If this mutation is passed along the sex chromosomes, it would be the X-chromosome in particular, but women have two X’s, so it would be more, not less likely, for the males to display the longevity as they have only X-chromosome and would not have a “compensating” X. Either let the longevity be a function of fiction and work as magical realism, or research genetics. I just couldn’t suspend disbelief the way the “facts” were presented here.
Profile Image for Christine.
863 reviews
July 17, 2012
I really hate to be someone who puts out a negative review of a book especially one that is an author's debut novel. I was so disappointed in this book. I am from Northern California and was excited to see a book about this region, then that it was multi-generational and about women made it even more intriguing so I was happy to sign up for an ARC. I feel like the editors let this author down because somehow this book seemed unfinished. Too many characters, too many secrets and too many gaps left open made me wonder what the author wanted me to come away with from this story. She had some great story elements, including those of multi-generations of women, olive growing, longevity, forgiveness and relationships and when combined they can become a special story but this one left me scratching my head.
Profile Image for Julie Barrett.
8,034 reviews141 followers
June 14, 2012
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.

Profile Image for Brenda.
93 reviews16 followers
February 1, 2013
This started with a good premise but I felt the author was lacking character development. I have problems with books that have unlikeable characters. However, I have a unusual and some might say twisted sense of what is likeable and can find some horrific characters terribly likeable. When they are dully drawn is when I have the problem.

Enter five generations of one family who live in Kidiron, California - a fictionalized version of Corning, for those of you familiar with that particular stretch of I-5 in Northern California. They are women who live for a long very long time and work with olive trees, to sum it up. These five women do not get along very well, for reasons that I do not feel are ever fully explained. For instance, when one of the woman's daughters kills her husband and is sentenced to 15 years to life in Chowchilla, it is never explained why she doesn't go to visit. Why not? Also troubling is the youngest member of this family, the daughter of the husband-shooter, who is supposed to be a talanted classical vocalist who has toured Europe but comes off as childish and immature.

I think that people who enjoy multigenereational women's fiction with flashbacks to the past will go for this and I hope they will not be as bothered by the characters as I was.
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,044 reviews1,367 followers
June 18, 2012
Olives, Olive Oil, longevity.....sounds like it could be true to me. The Keller women had worked in the olive orchards for generations, and Anna, who was 112, claimed the longevity was because of the family's "love" of the olives....this book is filled with generations of women and family life. What a magnificent book with a powerful, thoughtful ending.

A lot of life's lessons were taught under and in the olive trees. Anna told her great, great grandchild, Erin, that "roots" are important whether they belonged to a tree or to a family. The olive garden was everything to Anna, and she wanted her family to know how important it actually had been.

You will meet five generations of Keller women with the sixth on the way. Each woman was remarkable. Anna was the oldest at 112, Elizabeth was 90, Callie was in her sixties, Deb was in prison for murder, and Erin in her late 20's shows up pregnant at the family home of Hill House.

You will become attached to these women, specifically Anna who began it all and held it all together. The other women take care of Anna, not that she needs any care, and they take care of each other. They are proud of their longevity and, of course, their olive orchards. The book was very well written and made me think about the power if you can call it that of olive oil....could that tiny fruit be the answer to living a long, healthy life or is it simply one's genes?

Besides enjoying the female characters, you will enjoy Dr. Hashmi who was doing research on the Keller family to see what the secret of their longevity was. Each woman had a wonderful story with Anna of course being the reason they all were there and the reason they were the person they had become. Anna was my favorite....she had a great story from her childhood that was retoldfrom generation to generation.

You will follow each character and her place in the circle of life. You will not be bored with their stories. The author takes you deep into each woman's life with wonderful descriptions and flashbacks along with tears and hugs. You will find out if their longevity really is from olive oil or from something that has been kept secret for over 100 years. What a beautiful story....a splendid family saga that is uniquely told.
Profile Image for Sharon.
11 reviews3 followers
January 4, 2013
This book had too much going on. I liked the descriptions of the orchids and Anna's story. But the book just seemed to be about too many issues / stories / characters without fully exploring any of them. I thought the book was going to be realistic fiction dealing with family relationships and aging, but suddenly there was a family member in prison for murder, another who was a victim of an improbable accident, secrets of paternity, a woman hoping to become the oldest living person, an unplanned pregnancy, a doctor searching for the secrets of people who living longer than a century, etc. It was just too much. Any of these problems could have made for an interesting novel, but putting them all together seemed a little manic and left the main issue of the implications of finding the genetic secrets of longevity largely unexplored. Instead I'd recommend Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist which also had beautiful descriptions of orchards, but whose characters were more complex and believable.
Profile Image for Ruth.
1,358 reviews25 followers
June 18, 2012
5 (6) generations of females living on olive farm in California … present day setting. Early pages, but good read.

Liked it. Wanted to love it, but just didn't feel it.

5 generations of first born females in one olive 'plantation'. Other than their inclusive past and present, there wasn't a great deal there. Anna is the oldest and wants to be the oldest living person. Her daughter Bets story deals mostly with her husband Frank who has dementia or something along those lines and is in a home and has a male lover. Their daughter Callie was a flight attendant and was in a horrible plane crash and suffered a damaged leg that is constantly in pain, so she takes pills. Oh and their daughter Deb murdered the father of her daughter Erin. She was in prison for most of Erin's life, is finally released but finds life with family difficult and runs away. Callie falls for a doctor who studies the ladies trying to find out why they live so very long. I wonder too. They don't seem to have much of a life, but they want to live a really, really long time. No friends. No outside interest other than olives. Callie seems to like the men folk. Erin sings opera. But mostly they hang around the olive farm and discuss family. I'm thinking I missed something.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,693 reviews14.1k followers
August 18, 2012
3.5 It could be that because I have a large family myself, although more sons than daughters, I could really relate to this story. I most identified with Anna, who was the oldest, she was a crusty, self=determined character that attempted to keep the peace between all living in her house. I was also intrigued about the anti-aging research and enjoyed learning about the olive groves and the transplanting of the trees. {acing was somewhat slow in the beginning and the constant shifts of focus kept the reader from knowing any of the characters thoroughly, but I believe we learn enough to get the general idea of their personalities. This is a good solid, interesting story, one I did enjoy.
Profile Image for Samantha Glasser.
1,562 reviews54 followers
May 4, 2017
The Roots of the Olive Tree concerns a family of women who have extrordinarily long lives. The first woman of the still-living Kellers in California is Anna whose father brought the first olive trees from Australia to the United States. Her daughter Bets (short for Elizabeth--the author has conveniently used the letters of the alphabet to keep track of the characters and their ages) has lived to see her daughter Callie, her grand-daughter Deb, and her great-grand-daughter Erin grow up and have careers and husbands and lovers of their own. Callie's latest beau is Dr. Amrit, a scientist studying aging and the superagers who seem to defy the average lifespan, especially Anna and the Keller family.

Through his research, he opens a forum for the woman to discuss things that were never addressed before. This reveals some secrets about the lineage that even the secret-keepers weren't sure was true.

This is a mild read, with no major action, but the characters and the idea of living for more than one hundred years are interesting. The ending is a bit abrupt and does not tie up all of the loose ends.
Profile Image for Karen.
256 reviews26 followers
April 21, 2019
La narración de la autora no es ligera y los personajes en general me exasperaron, puedo decir que me entretuvo, pero no ha sido más de lo que ya esperaba cuando comencé a leerlo.
Profile Image for Joanne.
347 reviews
October 13, 2021
This felt like such a gentle, meandering read. Not too much happened and there wasn't much conflict to resolve, but somehow I just felt really relaxed just enjoying day to day life with the women in the book.
Profile Image for ☯Emily  Ginder.
578 reviews98 followers
July 1, 2012
I would give this book 2 1/2 stars if that were an option. I have an Advance Reader's Edition from Harper Collins. The book centers around five generations of women who live together. None of these women seem to age, so a scientist comes to investigate why. His visit is the catalyst for revealing the stories of the five Keller women. The book is divided into five sections; each woman is given a chance to share her thoughts and secrets. Unfortunately, I could not really relate to any of the characters. As soon as I begin to get interested in one character, the story would switch to another member of the family. I was most interested in Deb, who is in prison for shooting her husband. However, she abruptly leaves the story and is only mentioned occasionally thereafter.

I know that this book has not been published. Hopefully, there will be massive changes, especially with the story of Anna, the first character of the book. This section dragged and I almost stopped reading because of boredom and poor writing. On page 24, there is a long description of the town, Kidron, being moved, house by house. Anna is reliving this history from 1900, when she is six years old, but she skips around in an incoherent way to discuss her daughter's home and to mention the great grandchildren of the first settlers. I had to read it several times just to unravel the timeline.

The book is more enjoyable after this. It took about as long to read the first 40 pages as it took to read the remaining 260 pages. A good book should grab the reader's attention quickly.

I do have one quibble about Frank. He is supposedly suffering from lewy body dementia. However, I know someone who has this terrible disease. It is progressive and the vast majority die within 8 years of diagnosis. (Frank has had the disease for 20+ years.) There is no way someone with this disease would be permitted to do what Frank does at the end of the book.

This episode, as well as others just as improbable, made the book unrealistic to me.
876 reviews7 followers
December 8, 2012
This title was a miss for me. I keep giving "women's fiction" a try but all too frequently I find the stories to be somewhat bland.
In The roots of the olive tree we have a character study of several generations of long lived women. The story ostensibly concerns a researcher studying the women to determine why they are superagers and in his pursuit of the scientific evidence secrets are revealed. For me each of the individual women's stories just were not that interesting nor did I find their secrets all that earth shattering. The women themselves were not all that likeable. They were too bitter and unhappy for me to care about them. In some respects their stories were also somewhat repetitive - mothers don't get along with daughters, several of the characters had wanted to leave the homestead but never take the opportunity to leave the nest - yet we aren't really told why they are held there nor why they wished to leave. The story just wasn't my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Superstition Review.
118 reviews66 followers
April 29, 2017
Courtney Miller Santo deftly writes the six different perspectives of a family dominated by women who have exceptionally long lives in her novel, The Roots of the Olive Tree. The direct speech, rich interiority, and distinctive voice of each character lends to the captivating story of a family led fearlessly by their centenarian matriarch, who is battling to become the oldest documented living person. Santo slowly reveals the troubled intricate familial relationships between the five generations of women in northern California by exposing the closely kept secrets and shame of each memorable character. The story also explores the possibilities and implications of finding the genetic key to agelessness and what it means to be family.

Review by H. Rae Monk
Profile Image for Deborah.
19 reviews2 followers
June 27, 2013
I was intrigued by this story that someone could live as long and stay as healthy as these women do. Genetics, I'm sure, does play a part as my aunt will be 93 this year. She was not an active woman and did smoke at one point in her life. So the question is asked. Does your environment and life style dictate how long you live? I believe that it does except for the occasional person that defies the odds and lives on.......I hope I have that gene as well. I recommend this book.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
423 reviews6 followers
September 29, 2014
I thought this book was a strange mess. I didn't like the characters and I felt that the author jumped all over the place. I assume her goal was to give each woman in the story a chance to tell her story, but there was no flow in the book. It was a mess.
23 reviews
February 25, 2019
I enjoyed the multi-generational aspect of the book. I was intrigued by the concept of living well past 100. It was a good story, not great. I have mentioned it to a few friends, but wouldn’t recommend to everyone because the story was slow an wandered in strange ways at times. Overall, an enjoyable experience about family dynamics.
Profile Image for Mahoghani 23.
1,070 reviews
July 1, 2020
A genealogical story about a family of women, 6 generations strong, with the matriarch at the age of 112. Each woman has a secret that they wished to keep but it affects each member of the family differently. This story illustrates the Chase for immortality & why some people live longer than others. When a geneticist seeks their family out, secrets unravel to reveal themselvesin more ways than one,
Profile Image for Betul Pehlivanli.
371 reviews14 followers
March 3, 2018
5 nesildir hayatta kalabilmiş kadınlar hakkında muhteşem bir hikayeye sahip bir kitap,nasıl bu kadar mahvedilir görmüş oldum.Hikayenin gidişatı mı,heyecandan ve keyiften uzak anlatım mı hoşuma gitmedi bilmiyorum ama sevemedim.Normalde tarzı itibariyle en fazla 1 günde bitecek kitaptı ama sıkıldığımdan zor bitti.
Profile Image for Cindy Veneris.
312 reviews6 followers
December 12, 2018
I’m giving this 3 stars because the author writes very well, but what a soap opera. Not my favorite.
Profile Image for Natasha Books.
1,164 reviews101 followers
September 30, 2013
Disfruté mucho leyendo Las raíces del olivo de Courtney Miller Santo. No es una novela ligera, merece una lectura concienzuda y tranquila. Sobre todo, este libro trata sobre los misterios de una familia, que parece muy unida, pero en la cual se ocultan más secretos de los debidos.
Anna es la matriarca de esta familia de cinco (y luego seis) generaciones. Ella es tan vieja como el pueblo en el que vive, su padre trajo los olivos que tan famosa hicieron a la región, pero también trajo un secreto. De carácter amable y autoritario, la ternura de la anciana sorprende. Bets es la hija de Anna, aunque aparenta una figura fría, por dentro hay miles de emociones esperando a estallar. Su enigmática relación con su marido, por ejemplo. Callie es la hija de Bets, está viuda y se encarga de una tienda. Debido a un accidente, arrastra un tremendo dolor en su pierna enferma y una rabia que solo el amor podría mitigar. Deb la hija de Callie, está presa, pero pronto se espera que salga en libertad condicional. Un crimen terrible la envuelve. Erin es la hija de Deb, ha estado fuera del pueblo durante dos años y ahora vuelve a la casa matriarcal embarazada y sin marido. Las sombras del pasado la atormentan y un futuro incierto rodea a su pancita.
Además de los secretos entre todas ellas, ¿qué hay de raro? Lo raro está en que Anna tiene más de ciento veinte años. Bets ronda los noventa. Callie los setenta y cinco. Y las tres aparentan mucha menos edad de la que en realidad tienen. Por esta razón llegará un genetista indio a investigarlas y sin quererlo, terminará revolviendo entre todos los secretos.
La novela está dividida en cinco grandes partes narradas en primera persona por las protagonistas: Anna, Erin, Deb, Callie y Bets. Además, en el capítulo final, hay un pequeño cambio de narrador inesperado. Entre los finales de capítulo, podremos leer unos recortes sobre cómo avanza la investigación del genetista.
Dentro de los temas centrales está la cuestión de la inmortalidad, de la juventud. Cada personaje en la familia Keller tendrá una postura diferente. Algunos desearán alargar sus vidas y otros no. Es misterioso el asunto, debido a que solo se nombran estas capacidades en las mujeres... Sin embargo, al leer el final, sentí que solo fue un pretexto para contar la historia importante: la relación entre madre e hija.
Debo decir que si bien es natural que siempre hayan pequeños roces en la convivencia entre familiares, algunas expresiones o actos que tenían las mujeres Keller se pasaban de la raya hasta el absurdo. ¡Ojo! Tal vez sea mía la culpa de no entender este aspecto, porque tengo una buena relación con mi madre y por eso no me siento identificada con los conflictos del argumento.
De los personajes principales, quien me ha caído mejor ha sido Anna. Me parece que tiene una historia muy sufrida y que, a pesar de eso, logró una vida muy bien hecha. Ella será el sostén que las mantenga unidas hasta el final.
La narración es muy prolija y atractiva, no es lineal, pero no resulta por eso aburrida. Eso sí, es una novela larga, la cual merece su tiempo. Es más que nada un "drama familiar", posee solo cortos pasajes románticos y todos giran alrededor de Callie, una setentona que no le tiene miedo al sexo. Ah, si, casi me olvidaba. Hay una pequeña escena subida de tono, pero es muy leve, no se preocupen.
En suma, la novela me gustó. No fue lo que me esperaba, pero me entretuvo igual. Es algo diferente a lo que he estado leyendo este año, contiene hasta un pequeño toque de realismo mágico que me hizo acordar a El amor en los tiempos del cólera de Gabriel García Márquez. Les recomiendo la lectura de Las raíces del olivo de Courtney Miller Santo más que nada al público adulto.

Reseñado primero en mi blog
Profile Image for Becky.
1,453 reviews79 followers
November 3, 2014
The Keller women are a strong and hearty bunch. Legend has it it's the olive oil. Anna's father brought his family and his olive trees over from Brisbane to the New World in 1898. They settled in Kidron where the man built the family home and everyone, Anna included, worked and harvested the crop. Today, it is the daughters who still live at the homestead, Anna and the first born of each generation. At 112 years old, Anna is more active and sharp than most at her age. And she says she's darn well going to live another decade -- to ensure she becomes the oldest living person ever! Anna's daughter, Bets, is in her nineties and also in great health, though her husband now lives in an assisted living facility. Her daughter Callie runs the Pit Stop shop alone since her husband died. Deb, the next in line, is the most tragic, having been imprisoned for much of her own daughter's life. And finally Erin, raised by her grandmothers in the absence of her mother.

Erin recently returned from a gig with the opera in Italy. Anna suspects something is going on -- Erin was contracted to be in Italy for three years and returned to Kidron without so much as a word -- and now they know why. Erin is expecting. Soon there will be six generations of Keller women on the farm. Six women who share Anna's genes. Six women who could be the key to Dr. Amrit Hashmi's longtime search for the truth about aging, and a solution to it altogether. In the Keller's blood, he hopes to find the secret of their longevity, but his arrival stirs up secrets each generation has been careful to keep to themselves.

First I just have to say The Roots of the Olive Tree is a lush and amazing read. As rich and layered as a good olive oil itself!

Santo's debut features an ensemble cast story -- there is no main character. Instead, the narrator alternates, giving readers a fair amount of each woman's story. Santo does this so well that the reader also gets to learn a good deal about each character in spite of the number of narrators. Not only that, but in handling so many characters, one would think that the different voices of the women themselves might get muddied, but this is definitely not the case.

As the story progresses, even more about the family is revealed. Anna's secret comes earliest in the tale as it's the initial story stirred up by the arrival of Hashmi, the geneticist. And each section of the book ends with a little bit from the doctor himself.

Whether it truly is the olive oil that's the secret to their longevity or simply the bonds of family, I'll leave it to you to discover. Santo's tale is lush in detail and the Keller women completely suck you in. Suffice it to say this is one fabulous story!

Readers who want to sample a taste of Santo's work should know that HarperCollins is offering a free e prequel, Under the Olive Tree, a short story that takes place two years before The Roots of the Olive Tree, as Erin is preparing to leave for Italy. The story also comes with a sample excerpt of Roots to get you started.
Profile Image for Maurine Tritch.
249 reviews2 followers
October 11, 2012
The Roots of the Olive Tree at the core is a charming generational book, but the details make it fresh and interesting. Anna is one hundred and twelve, and she lives with her daughter, her granddaughter and soon to be joined by her great-granddaughter. We quickly learn that she is a "superager": that she possesses a gene, which runs through the female line only, that allows the normal affects of aging to pass her by. When the story opens, the women are expecting a visit by a geneticist who is certain that this family contains the secret to curing aging diseases, such as Alzheimer, and perhaps eventually stopping the internal aging process altogether. His argument about the modern advances of medicine that allow us to extend life, but the fact that the quality of life is still subject to the aging process, is surprisingly compelling. His goal is to extend our productive, healthy years to match the new life span we have achieved. However, this family is also subject to deep secrets and trauma, some of which is unearthed during the doctor's intense scrutiny.

I loved the story, I loved the interplay between the women. The connection to their family olive grove was rock solid and tied the various strands together. I did feel like Anna's long life was a tremendous opportunity that was mostly thrown away. You didn't get much from her memories of a different time, just here and there. In certain sections it would have been stronger to get away from the modern age and completely go back into the past. I found myself thinking wistfully of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenindes, another generational novel with an intense retelling of family history that allowed the reader a real sense of who these people were and why pivotal choices were made. The most interesting turning points here were just sketched in with a few sentences or a couple of short scenes. It also bothered me that during the description of the romantic relationship between the doctor and one of the women, I could never figure out if it was a genuine attraction or it had more of a Pygmalion vibe that was a little creepy. And the ending was wholly unsatisfying, Batman! And confusing to boot, but I THINK I know what the author was trying to say. Maybe. Still, the details and characters were exquisite, I didn't want to put the book down, and would recommend it.
Profile Image for Denise.
1,969 reviews82 followers
September 1, 2012
3.0 out of 5 stars - "Life is eternal, love immortal and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight."

Before you read this, if you can -- download Under the Olive Tree, a prequel to this story of long-lived women! Not only are they living long lives, they don't seem to age as do others. The matriarch of the family is a supercentarian (living past age 110) with a secret that has incredible implications for the research study being done Amrit Hasmi on the five women who live in the Sacramento Valley and own an olive orchard.

The women -- in alphabetical and age order -- Anna, Bets (Elizabeth), Callie (Calliope), Deb and Erin -- have an interesting family dynamic with resentment that seems to have come from misunderstandings and hidden truths that are revealed throughout the narrative. Each of the characters is complex and well drawn -- you love them one minute and almost loathe them the next. The choices each has made in her past affect their daily lives as they all live together in Hill House in a town called Kidron. The men are either deceased or absent so it is a house of only women living together in a somewhat disharmonious state with some allegiances stronger than others. The point of view shifts between the women as each tells a bit of her background and her personal history.

Underneath the theme of longevity and the point that a person doesn't want long life without health as well, is the olive. The fruit and the oil permeate the novel and the reader can almost taste, feel, see and smell them. The women are the roots of their family and have survived and flourished despite hardships and trials that typically bring death or infirmity to most other people of their age. What is in their make-up that allows them to live so long? Is it in their DNA or is it some other type of influence from their diet or environment? Dr. Hasmi wants to know and the women tell him their stories and allow their blood to be tested.

This was an interesting book and an easy, fast read. I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys women's fiction.
4 reviews
April 27, 2015
The Roots of the Olive tree, by Courtney Miller Santos was truly an amazing read! This novel centers around the lives of five generations of women, beginning with the eldest who is one hundred and twelve years old, Anna. Then there is Bets, Anna’s daughter. Calliope, Bet’s daughter, and Deb, Calliope’s daughter. The youngest, Erin, is pregnant with a child. Courtney Miller Santos takes us to Hill House, an old house in California, where the family has grown olives in the land surrounding the house.
Dr. Hashmi is interested in the genes of these women, who live extremely long lives, and who age very well. He comes to their house, does some testing, takes some blood work, and interviews the women. His research includes finding the secret to longevity, to share with all humanity.
As Dr. Hashmi does his research, the secrets of the women of this house begin to unfold. Changes begin to occur in the Hill House. Deb, Calliope’s daughter and Erin’s mother (whom she grew without) returned from prison. Erin’s child is born, a baby boy. Dr. Hashmi and Calliope begin a romance. Deb leaves, for the second time, taking with her all the money from her mother Deb’s pit stop store.
The secrets continue to unfold: Anna was the illegitimate child of her father. Bets knows this secret about Anna, as well as other secrets. Bets has not lived the marriage and family life everyone seems to think she lived.
Courtney Miller Santos takes the reader to Hill House, to the olive trees, the olive orchards, to the porch of Hill House, where the women sit and talk. The lives of the women, and their secrets, are all unfolded. The Keller women learn about one another, to live with one another, to love and understand one another, and to support one another in their trials and changes that come with life.
585 reviews9 followers
June 5, 2013
I knew about telomeres from reading The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. From reading this book I've learned that if we can find a way from keeping our telomeres from shortening with each division, we can live for a very long time, providing we avoid accidents. Maybe some smart someone will invent a take home kit for telomere testing, like a pregnancy test, so we can predict our own lifespans.

In this book, five women, descendants of an Australian aborigine women, share a kind genetic mutation. Thus, they are living or are predicted to live very long lives. Sensibly, the author names these women in alphabetical order from oldest to youngest: Annie, Bets, Callie, Deb, and Erin, so the reader will know which in the family line is being featured at any give point in time. (I didn't figure this naming system out till I'd read 50 or so pages, and before that time I had to keep turning to the book jacket cover for necessary identification.)

A major motif in this book is secrets. Somehow, I was not amazed, saddened, or delighted by the revelations that occur in the unfolding of the novel. A common question: "where were the gay people in the 1940's?" is addressed here, with unsurprising consequences, IMHO. Furthermore, don't most people keep at least some secrets from their mothers, of all people? Daughters don't need to know every single detail of mom's life before daughter joined the family, surely.

The author gave each woman a back story but somehow, again, failed to make me care about each one. Deb I definitely disliked. To the others I remained indifferent.

But I'll be looking in my local CVS for the telomere kit.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
891 reviews99 followers
August 23, 2012
“Anna Davison Keller wanted to be the oldest person in the world. She felt she was owed this distinction, due to the particular care she’d taken with the vessel God had given her. In her morning prayers, she made a show, in case God himself was watching, of getting out of bed and onto her knees. She spoke to God in his language – asking for a length of days to be added to the one hundred twelve years she’d already lived and pleading for health in her navel and marrow in her bones. She didn’t say outright that God ought to strike dead the jo-fired man in China who was keeping her from the title, but after all these years, surely, God knew her heart.”

In her debut novel, Courtney Miller Santo presents the lives of five generations of Keller women, known for their longevity, but not necessarily for their togetherness. Putting together a background of olive farming and strong-minded women really appealed to me. I love the idea of a family of mothers and daughters, secrets, strength and hope. There’s definitely lots to intrigue a reader here. Pregnancy without marriage, adultery, murder, spousal abuse, homosexuality – this is one dysfunctional family. In all honesty, I didn’t care about the characters and was a little turned off with their stories. But that’s just me. Santo has a knack for storytelling and I know there is a group of readers out there who will just love The Roots of the Olive Tree. Many thanks for William Morrow and Harper Collins Publishers for an advance review copy of this book. 2 1/2 stars.
Profile Image for Purvika.
138 reviews105 followers
December 26, 2013
The Roots of the Olive Tree is set in a small town in Sacramento Valley, California where a family lives on their olive farm. This book is about five generations of women who are predicted to have a long life. Normally it doesn't take me long to connect with the story or characters but with this I had major difficulties. I actually picked this book because the plot intrigued me but,I couldn't grow to like any of the character. They all seem to plastic or unemotional to me. Is it my prejudice towards them? maybe. But not even one mother daughter had a strong connection in that family instead there were connections in grandmother and granddaughters.
I disliked the way each women were portrayed. Maybe story demanded it or something or one can accept the argument saying when people live with each other more than necessary they are prone to get detached from each other. But here, many times it was mentioned "I didn't mothered her the way she needed". The secrets were fairly predictable as well. The plot was nice but i think it needed more than just Dr.Hashmi trying to find genetic mutation for defying aging.

No characters were my favourite. No daughter loved her mother. No mother held affection for their daughter. I just completed this book to actually see how it will end. that's all.
Profile Image for Candice.
1,396 reviews
July 8, 2013
I usually love multigenerational stories, but this one wasn't one of the best I've read. Five generations of women live in the same household in an olive grove in Southern California. The eldest is 112-year-old Anna who immigrated from Australia to the U.S. with her parents when she was four. Anna is aging remarkably well, as are her 90-year-old daughter Elizabeth (Betts) and 65- year-old granddaughter Calliope. A scientist from the University of Pittsburgh undertakes a study of the women and their DNA to see if he can unlock some clues to aging. Throughout the book we read the various women's stories and learn some family secrets. However, none of the characters is particularly likable. I thought there was far too much animosity in the household and wondered why all of these women lived together if they couldn't get along. Here's something i did like. It made it easy for me to keep track of who was who because the author named the oldest woman Anna, the second Betts, the Callie, Deb, and Erin. I wonder if one reason I didn't like this book very much is that I don't like olives!
Profile Image for Kimberly Hicks.
Author 1 book194 followers
March 23, 2014
There are those who want to live forever, and those of us who settle for whatever time we're to be given. Can you possibly imagine living to be 112 years old? I can't fathom it, but Anna Keller certainly proved the test of time in this wonderfully thought-provoking novel.

The Olive Trees roots go deep for the Keller women starting back in the late 1800s spanning to the year 2017. Five generations of women who have loved, lost and gain a new sense of independence and individuality. The Keller women are not unlike other families, except for one difference--longevity. How beautiful it must be to have your great-great-great grandmother still living alongside you, and your offspring.

They suffered tragedies and still they forged on. This is such a well written novel with all the emotions one reader can handle. The secrets some of the Keller women held were hard for their souls to take, but as they grow and learn from each other, eventually, the truth comes out, as they painfully found out.

This is a great read. If you love living through family generations, you'll definitely enjoy the journey.

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