The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo
“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.”
Review from Devourer of Books:
“The wrong narrator might have highlighted some of the more implausible elements of The Roots of the Olive Tree and made it slightly ridiculous, but White hit all the right notes, bringing the focus to the relationships between the women. She (and the overall formatting of the story) also made it surprisingly easy to figure out which of the five generations of women was narrating at any point in time, which is quite a feat, particularly when only Anna had any sort of distinguishing accent.”
Review from Miss Susie’s Reading & Observations:
“Karen White’s narration was fantastic, all her different voices and accents were spot on; you always knew exactly who was talking. Her voice took on so many different characteristics of each of the women as they told their story and her delivery held my interest all the way through.”
“This is a moving novel, and White’s heartfelt narration enhances it.”
Family sagas and historical fiction have been favorite genres for me since I was a teen, when I devoured books from my mom’s shelf by authors like Howard Fast, Colleen McCullough and Maeve Binchy. This book of interweaving secrets and stories did not disappoint. I also love a hint of magic realism, which Ms. Santo weaves in beautifully.
It’s always a challenge to voice multiple women from the same family, but these four were drawn so specifically, the characterizations came pretty organically. Figuring out how much to age Anna and Bets was tricky, as it’s specified that their voices haven’t aged, but of course that is relative to people over 90!
I also love to learn things when I am narrating. The olive growing and harvesting process was fascinating to learn about, as was the science behind aging. I think you will, too.
Listen to a sample here:
- Review: The Roots of the Olive Tree (bermudaonion.net)
- Interview with Courtney Miller Santo, author of The Roots of the Olive Tree (motleyvision.org)