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The Roots of the Olive Tree Hardcover – August 21, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


In a debut that takes a wry look at our obsession with ageing and its elixirs, Santo also raises interesting questions about the nature of family bonds. Daily Mail --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women—an unbroken line of daughters—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 person 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: the eldest two 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. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true 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 uncovers revelations that will shake 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 another.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: WilliamMr; First Edition edition (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006213051X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062130518
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (211 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,129,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Sandra VINE VOICE on July 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Anna, Bets, Callie, Deb, and Erin are five first-born women, representing five generations of the Keller family, still living. Anna is 112. As the story opens, she is the second oldest living human being in the world. She prides herself on her longevity, and all of the five generations of daughters, except Bets, are excited that Dr.Amrit Hashmi, a geneticist, is coming to investigate the reason for their longevity. Betts holds in her heart secrets about her family that no one else knows. She fears that the geneticist may discover those secrets and divulge them.

This tender story, narrated by various, well-developed characters throughout its unfurling, is wonderful. The author's depictions of the Keller family show us the importance of acceptance of the imperfections and faults that are the undeniable frail and flawed human condition. The characters inspire the reader to value and savor familial relationships, cherishing the ties that bind us, and reminding us to treasure the time we have with our relations.

Setting this sensitive story in the beautiful and fertile family orchards of olive trees is perfect. The strong, old roots of the olive trees mirror the ties that bind this family together. The orchards represent the ongoing tradition of the family, the nurturing of whose trees provide their livelihood and wealth and sustenance. These ancient trees that were brought over to America from Australia show the significance of family and deep ancestral roots. This book is a veritable treasure.
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52 of 60 people found the following review helpful By J.D. Rowan on November 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The first third of the story was fairly well told and I don't hate the writing style, but the book suffers from either the author's lack of planning or a decent editor (or both.) There were glaring mistakes in the narrative that ruined its flow. At the beginning of the book Anna goes down alone to glean the olive groves, yet at the end of the book the reader is told that one of Anna's habits since she has reached 100 has been to sit in perfect stillness unless people are around. Bets's husband, Frank, is said to have been born to a Mormon family, but that same family is also said to have come from Italy, and then later Bets references Frank singing Gaelic lullabies to his children that he learned from his grandmother. As a grown man Frank proposes to a 19-year-old Bets in 1927, although according to the chart in the front they married in 1937 and Frank would have only been 11 in 1927. There are at least two separate references to "the war" which make no sense. Bets says that they were all crazy from the war when she talks about Frank's proposal. Would that have been WWI and they were still crazy about it 19 years later or would it be WWII which hadn't happened yet? In the penultimate chapter the author describes Frank as standing in the posture he'd been taught in high school when they were "readying everyone for war." Once again, which war could that possibly have been if Frank was born in 1916 and would have been in high school from about 1930-1934 or so? At the beginning of Chapter 20 Callie is in her bedroom on the phone, but a page later she suddenly converses with the other characters sitting on the porch. Another problem, for me, is that so many characters are barely fleshed out and are probably not necessary to the story itself.Read more ›
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Z Hayes HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on August 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love reading stories that have unique settings and when I saw the beautiful cover of this book and its interesting setting, an olive grove in the Sacramento Valley in Northern California, I knew I had to read it. The story revolves around five generations of the Keller family - there's matriarch Anna who is 112 years old and the second oldest woman in the world; her daughter Bets who is 90 years old; granddaughter Callie; great-granddaughter Deb; and, Deb's daughter Erin, who is Anna's great-great-granddaughter. Anna presides over the family at her residence, Hill House which is close to the olive grove. Throw in a geneticist who is intrigued by the family's history of longevity and wants to discover their secret and you have quite a story.

There's plenty of secrets in this novel pertaining to the older women's longevity and also the secrets each of them harbors. In a novel that appears cluttered with so many important characters, it may seem that character development might not be satisfactory. Not so the case with this book - each character has a distinctive voice and the reader is able to glean insights into each character's thoughts, fears, aspirations, etc. It helps that the author chose to tell the story from multiple points of view so that each character has a turn, and in doing this, readers are afforded an intimate close-up of how these individuals think and feel. Admittedly, I found some of the women's stories more compelling than others, but it still made for a riveting read. It is also a testament to this debut novelist's talents that she is able to provide distinct voices to each character yet also weave together a compelling story of what makes and completes a family. I loved the story and was sad to see it end.
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