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Book review: 'The Roots of the Olive Tree' by Courtney Miller Santo

“The Roots of the Olive Tree” is Courtney Miller Santo's debut novel, and it is an extraordinary, moving story of family.
BY BETTY LYTLE Modified: October 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm •  Published: October 7, 2012

“The Roots of the Olive Tree” (William Morrow, $25.99) is Courtney Miller Santo's debut novel, and it is an extraordinary, moving story of family.

The Keller family is five generations of firstborn women, living together in the same house in a secluded olive grove in Northern California. Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 years old and determined to become the oldest living woman in the world.

She lives with her daughter Bets, who is in her 90s, granddaughter Callie, in her 60s, great-granddaughter Deb, in her 40s, and great-great-granddaughter Erin, who is young and pregnant.

Anna still tends to the olive trees and makes her own olive oil. She only uses the fruit from the trees her father brought from Australia to start the grove. Callie runs a gift shop featuring olive products. She wants to attribute the women's longevity to their olive grove and market her products with that claim.

She also wants to make enough money to move away from the family home. The family catches the attention of a geneticist, who wants to isolate the gene that has given them long life spans, hoping to find the cure for aging.

Each of the women conceals her true self from the others. They are bound by blood and the house that they share, but living together isn't always easy. As the geneticist traces the history of the family, Anna knows he will find out the secret she's been keeping for so many years. As to whether he'll find the secret of longevity, that remains to be seen.

— Betty Lytle


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