Friday, September 7, 2012
The Book Tour Stops Here: The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo
In The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santos, the Keller family is five generations of firstborn women led by Anna, a matriarch of 112, bound and determined to be named the oldest person in the world and showing few signs of slowing down anytime soon. Anna lives in the family home on a secluded olive grove outside Kidron, a small town in Northern California with her daughter Elizabeth (Bets) and granddaughter Callie. Great-granddaughter Deb is doing time for killing her husband and great-great granddaughter Erin has recently returned home from an opera tour in Italy pregnant, and seeking solace and support from her family, determined to get her mother paroled before the birth of her child. The unusual life-spans of these first-born daughters has caught the eye of a prominent geneticist who believes that they may hold the key to understanding aging and prolonging the life-spans for everyone, and he comes to interview and do genetic testing on the family.
It has long been suspected that it is the olive oil that has led to the Keller women's health and longevity. Anna's father immigrated with his family and olive tree cuttings from Australia and it became the family business for generations. Drama abounds in the Keller household, with the women simultaneously loving each other and allowing resentments, jealousies and secrets keep them somewhat apart. The story is told in turns from each woman's very different perspective, illuminating the deep and twisted roots of family relationships, so like the deep and twisted roots of the trees in the olive grove. One of my favorite passages is early on from witty, no-nonsense Anna: "Anna had loved her father but she never liked him all that much. She suspected most people felt this way about one parent, or at the very least, a sibling. It wasn't God's way to stick you with people who were easy to like--life was all a big test. Can you love your sniveling, sickly brother? Can you love your dumb but well-intentioned mother? Can you love your hard-as-steel father? Anna used to tell her children that God never gave one commandment about liking a person and she'd learned over the years that it was possible to love without having a lot of like in your heart."
The Roots of the Olive Tree is beautiful and compelling book that chapter by chapter unravels the love, conflict and emotional intricacies at the heart of every family. It's a book that will appeal particularly to those who like novels featuring strong and real female characters. It is the debut novel of author Courtney Miller Smith, a creative writing instructor living in Memphis. Miller Smith's own great-grandmother is 104 and her stories served as inspiration for the book.
From the foodie perspective, food is sprinkled throughout the story in family meals. Olives and olive oil of course play a starring role--the women eat it, cook with it, and Anna uses it on her skin. For my book-inspired dish for this review I had plans first for a garlic and olive oil pasta that was mentioned, then I changed to a simple mixed olive and caper tapenade on warm bread. My week left little energy for even pitting and chopping olives, so in the end I enjoyed the olives, with some local-bakery multi-grain ciabatta dipped into olive oil with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt. A glass of white wine... and I called it dinner. ;-)
Note: A review copy of The Roots of the Olive Tree was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
Happy Aloha Friday!