Patricia & Proust

Patricia Schonstein responds to the Infamous Questionnaire by Alex Smith

Banjos, Shooting Tin Cans, Goya, Green Fingers, Frescos and Afrocarpus falcatus. South Africa’s literary Queen of Seduction, Patricia Schonstein’s acclaimed work is drenched in sensory delights, replete with complex characters and sublime settings. She contrasts heartfelt philosophical concerns with embroideries of life and art at its most luscious. For this unexpected balance of decadence and social concern, she has won an avid international audience of fans for her six novels, the most recent, enticingly entitled The Banquet at Brabazan. Patricia also writes poetry and children’s books and says of her latest project, Seed Readers : “I’m now constructing a sailing ship of wonder and imagination called Seed Readers. It’s powered by mythical wind and designed to bring light in the form of books to children whose lives are spoilt or made fearful by the darkness of our times… story books will be presented to children too poor to afford them, through story circles run by trained story tellers.”

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being in deep wilderness, especially among old trees, somewhere like Purros in Namibia, after the rains when the rivers are flooding and the grass is deliriously green.

What is your greatest fear?
That humanity is unraveling creation – that we are on a roller-coaster ride of environmental destruction.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I won’t say ‘most’ but there’s something about the artist Francisco Goya that I relate to professionally, even though I’m not a painter.

Which living person do you most admire?
She is a close friend of ours who lives life fully and richly and never rejects an invitation. She can turn a few loaves and fishes into a banquet of note and is a role-model for joyous life.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Deplore is a heavy judgment. Let’s say the trait I’d most like to improve has to do with gardening. I’d like to have green-fingers.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
The abuse of political power.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I’m a collector of beautiful things … Shona pots, shells, seed pods, feathers and books. I once bought a bucket of stones from a geologist, among them some bits of fossilized tree. That was extravagant.

What is your favorite Journey?
I’ve travelled some amazing routes. One of the best was the sand road through Kaudom in Namibia from Tsumkwe to the Caprivi Strip. My husband managed the extremely dangerous driving and I just blissed out on the wilderness and trees.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Thrift. I’d rather err towards generosity.

On what occasion do you lie?
I prefer truth-telling. But I once had to lie about a death. I had to say that there had been no suffering.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Why are these questions so negative? Let me rather tell you what I most like about my appearance … my creativity.

Which living person do you most despise?
I don’t despise anyone but I’m not partial to politicians. They all seem to turn out corrupt and greedy.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Whenever the wind blows with force and character, I say: ‘I love the wind’.

What is your greatest regret?
That war seems to have become humanity’s hallmark.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My family.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to play the banjo.

What is your current state of mind?

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
My brother would be alive.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished as an author.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
I’m fine with coming back as myself. I’d hope for the same family and friends.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
I would come back as the wind.

What is your most treasured possession?
A piece of fossilized wood. It keeps everything in perspective.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
There are lots of people in miserable situations – refugees, the homeless, addicts, victims of war. The worst is surely to watch your children’s lives destroyed by war.

Where would you like to live?
I’m very happy living in Cape Town.

What is your favourite occupation?
Authorship is great.

What is your most marked characteristic?

What is the quality you most like in a man?
I like the outdoor type who is not afraid of spiders; who knows what to do when the wheels come off; and who can drive through a swamp without sinking the car and drowning us. My husband is such a man.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
I like big women who cook and eat and dance and camp-out and can shoot a tin can with a pistol from 200 paces.

What do you most value in your friends?
Their friendship and generosity.

Who are your favorite writers?
At the moment my favourite is Edmund de Waal whose The Hare with Amber Eyes is wonderful.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Who are your heroes in real life?
The late Antony Clarke of Clarke’s Bookshop was a hero of note. As an Allied Gunner in Italy during World War 2 he had held back from shelling the town of Sansepolcro because he knew of Piero della Francesca’s fresco, The Resurrection, and did not want to destroy it. There were heroes in the End Conscription Campaign too, during apartheid.

What are your favorite names?
Podocarpus latifolius and Afrocarpus falcatus.

What is it that you most dislike?
War and the manufacture and trade in armaments.

How would you like to die?
Packed and ready.

What is your motto?
First, do no harm.

This interview appeared on BooksLIVE

Alex Smith is a writer, traveller, teacher, textile merchant and adventurer. She is the author of four acclaimed novels – Four Drunk Beauties, Agency Blue, Algerira’s Way and Drinking from the Dragon’s Well. She has won numerous awards and been short listed for others.

Patricia Schonstein  in pictured above in her office.
Photo by Gaelen Pinnock.

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