Against the beautiful backdrop of Northern California, five generations of women have lived, loved, and kept secrets. Secrets that are gradually revealed as the story flows. But the primary thread throughout The Roots of the Olive Tree: A Novel is the longevity of the women.
Anna, the eldest and the matriarch, is 112 and aspiring to be the oldest living person. A scientist has come to study the women through interviews and via blood samples, hoping to discover the clues, not only to the length of their years, but the “agelessness” that seems to describe them most aptly.
Anna is followed by daughter Bets, whose first daughter Callie has an aura of pain and misery about her. Deb, Callie’s daughter, has been in prison in Chowchilla for twenty years when the novel opens. Erin, Deb’s daughter, has returned home unexpectedly with a secret of her own.
I enjoyed the slow pace that seemed to only gradually reveal certain details, like not knowing exactly why Deb was in prison until later in the story, and not realizing Bets’s secrets until much later, too.
Sometimes I had difficulty distinguishing between the women, whose names (like Bets and Deb) felt so similar. And I gave up about the “great-great-great” aspect of it early on and just focused on the individuals when I could.
Not all the loose threads of the story were pulled together satisfactorily (for me), and sometimes the flashbacks appeared suddenly and confused me about where we were in time, but then I gave in to the flow of the story and simply enjoyed it. Four stars.