Born and raised in Revelstoke, B.C., Robert Pepper-Smith has incorporated his background in that region with his experiences as a paramedic with an NGO called Alianza in Guatemala to generate a trilogy that was completed in May of 2017.

From the late 1800s onwards, many peasants left southern Italy to work in the orchards and vineyards of either Argentina or British Columbia. These peasants were called golondrinas: the swallows. Instead of following the swallows to Capistrano, Robert Pepper-Smith followed them to a fictional town in southeastern B.C. based on Revelstoke.

In his first novel, The Wheel Keeper (NeWest $14.95), an Italian family deals with displacement and loss of culture as a proposed hydroelectric dam threatens to flood their village. Their experiences in The Wheel Keeper are told through the eyes of a child, Michael Guzzo. The narrator's grandmother was forced to emigrate from Italy as a young, unwed mother, fleeing to Canada to avoid giving up her child to the church.

Edited by Thomas Wharton, Robert Pepper-Smith's second poignant novel House of Spells (NeWest $18.95) follows the friendship between teenagers Rose and Lacey and their search for self-confidence and acceptance in the same B.C. orchards. When Rose becomes pregnant, the mysterious and childless Giacomo family, whose wealth is well-known in the community, offers to adopt the child. As Rose wrestles with the decision to give up her baby, Lacey recounts her efforts to help her friend and the unsettling discoveries she makes along the way.

Those two novels were republished for a trilogy called The Orchard Keepers (NeWest, 2017) which combines revamped versions of The Wheel Keeper and House of Spells with the release of a never-before-published novel, Sanctuary, that looks at the difficulties of creating and maintaining a home, focusing on the plight of economic refugees and immigrants. It merges the stories of Michael, Rose and Lacey from the previous two novels when Lacey goes in search of Michael in Central America.

Born in Revelstoke in 1954, Robert Pepper-Smith has tended a vineyard on Gabriola Island. He lives on a farm in the Cinnabar Valley and teaches philosophy at Vancouver Island University (formerly Malaspina College).

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Wheel Keeper


The Wheel Keeper (Newest, 2002) 1-896300-49-9

House of Spells (NeWest, 2011) 978-1-897126-87-5

The Orchard Keepers (Newest, 2017) $22.95 978-1-926455-90-7

[BCBW 2017]