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October 5, 2012 / Leslie

Review – Audiobook: The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo

Roots of the OliveTree by Courtney Miller SantoThe Roots of the Olive Tree
by Courtney Miller Santo
Narrated by Karen White

Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Audio
Publish Date: August 21, 2012
Format: Audio, 10 hours | 35 minutes
Audio Listening Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Rating: 4 of 5

Five generations of firstborn Keller women live together in a house on an olive grove in California’s Sacramento Valley. The oldest at 112 is Anna. She doesn’t look or act her age and is determined to become the oldest person in the world.

Dr. Hashmi, a geneticist, discovers the family and wants to study them to find the secret to both their longevity and their slower aging process. He believes there is a longevity gene, and that it may have been passed on through each of the women. Anna is not interested in genetic research or understanding the secrets of her aging. Unlocking the mystery of her age would also reveal family secrets she would prefer remain hidden. As Dr. Hashmi begins exploring the family’s history, we discover that each of the women has their own secrets, secrets that they have concealed from one another.

This is a rich, multilayered story presented in five sections, each part from the point of view of one of the women. I like the use of this technique. It allows the reader to better understand the relationships between these strong, independent women; and the women are definitely in charge in this family. The men, while not insignificant, are mostly in the background and have a few secrets of their own.

I listened to the audiobook and while I enjoyed it, I would only recommend the audio to seasoned audiobook listeners because of the complexity of the plot, the changing points of view, and the use of flashbacks in the story. Karen White’s pleasant voice and tone made for a nice listening experience. It was easy to know when Anna was speaking because of her Australian accent but there were only slight variations in the voices of the other women. If you do listen to the audio, write down the names and birth order of the women for reference, it will enhance the listening experience. Maybe I’m a little slow, but it took me half the book to remember who was who in the large Keller family.

One of the reasons I wanted to read this book is that I am fascinated by the idea of a longevity gene, one that allows advanced age with good health. I’ve always been interested in science, genetics and biology, but this has an even more personal reason for me. My grandmother is 102 years old, looks and acts 30 years younger, and still lives independently in her own home. She worked until she was 95! She is a super-ager. My great-grandmother also lived to be over 100 and there are others in the family that lived well into their 90s. I often wonder if it’s genetic or if it’s the Mediterranean diet/lifestyle they brought with them from Tuscany.

Overall, an enjoyable story and a book I recommend. I did have one slight issue with the ending, or rather lack of a conclusive ending. There was an epilogue, a glimpse into the year 2017, which I listened to three times and still felt unsatisfied and with questions left unanswered. Maybe it was just me, because I wanted to know more. Maybe there will be a sequel.

Source: Review copy.
© 2012 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.



Leave a Comment
  1. Teresa (@teresasreading) / Oct 5 2012 11:02 am

    I’ve wanted to read this one. I’m excited to learn that Karen White narrates it. Love her! Maybe I’ll have to give it a listen instead.


  2. Alyce (@AtHomeWithBooks) / Oct 5 2012 11:45 am

    I could see how it would be easy to get lost with many characters and flashbacks. I’m a sucker for generational secrets in story lines though, so I could see reading this one someday.


  3. sagustocox / Oct 5 2012 11:45 am

    I don’t mind changing points of view when reading or listening, but I’m not sure about the complex plot. I guess it would depend on my mood. Karen White is too cool…I had no idea she narrated books.


    • Leslie / Oct 5 2012 11:49 am

      It’s complex because of all the people to keep track of… 5 generations plus their spouses and children. The plot is fairly straight forward, although everyone does have a secret or two. It’s a good story though.


  4. Suko / Oct 5 2012 1:28 pm

    Wonderful review! This sounds like a terrific book/audiobook.


  5. BermudaOnion / Oct 5 2012 4:04 pm

    I agree with your review 100%. I had trouble keeping the characters straight, even though their names are in alphabetical order and the ending left me unsatisfied.


    • Leslie / Oct 5 2012 4:42 pm

      I didn’t even realize that the names were in alphabetical order, not that it would have helped me very much. And that ending… I just didn’t get it. I’m glad it wasn’t just me.


  6. Beth F / Oct 6 2012 6:59 am

    I’ve had mixed feelings about reading this. My family is also really long lived and active until the end. I was also a geneticist when I was younger. But the story itself doesn’t seem to really grab people, so I’m just unsure.


    • Leslie / Oct 6 2012 8:19 am

      There isn’t a lot of science in the story, just little bits interspersed from Dr. Hashmi. It’s more about the relationships between the women.


  7. jenclair / Oct 6 2012 8:24 am

    In spite of the warning about the inconclusive ending, the book sounds so interesting. I’m adding it to my list.


  8. stacybuckeye / Oct 13 2012 7:39 pm

    I love generational stories and this one looks good (I’ll keep that unsatisfying ending in mind). What an impressive grandmother you have!!! And great-grandmother. Must be reassuring to know you’ve got those genes 🙂


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