What I’m Reading | Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
Author and Playwright

Q&A with Christine Thomas
September 2008

Q. What are you reading?

A. I just finished “After the Quake,” by Haruki Murakami and this other book called
Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals” by Rupert Sheldrake.

Q. How did you discover them?

A. I’m a Murakami fan, and actually I go to this hair salon and the guy who does my hair is my Murakami pal so we’re always telling each other about his work. We know all of the books but actually I didn’t know about “After the Quake.” Then the Rupert Sheldrake one my friends told me about. I knew who Sheldrake was but I didn’t know he wrote this book. He’s a controversial biologist and best known for his theory of morphic fields and morphic resonance.

His theory is that morphic fields are like invisible blueprints for organisms, and these fields have a history and contain a collective memory for living organisms. It’s like when there’s a seed or an embryo, he says that embryos know how to grow into their particular species because of these morphic fields which they communicate with through morphic resonance and those blueprints help them know what to grow into.

Q. What did you like about Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home?

A. I love dogs and his book is about research on certain kinds of animal behavior, and a lot of the animals he’s looking at are dogs, cats, horses, parrots. One of the things I like is the research isn’t stuck in the dogma of lab experiments but involves the real world. He gets animal trainers, vets and pet owners to help him with experiments and information. I like that he’s researching animals and he likes them—he’s genuinely compassionate to animals.

It looks at all these different things about animals—the obvious one is do animals know when their owners are coming home—then at animal empathy, being aware of different accidents and comforting owners; then animal telepathy, and animals’ ability to find things and their sense of direction; and looks at animal premonitions—like when people might be having a seizure—or animals sensing natural disasters like earthquakes.

Q. Does he come to any conclusions?

A. He’s not drawing any super hard and fast conclusions at this point but says that there’s significant evidence that we should investigate these things further and that they could explain other things about science.

Q. What did you like about Murakami’s?

A. I liked this one, and it’s so great to read short stores; I think they’re really underappreciated. All of these stories are connected by the large scale disaster of the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan. My favorite one is about a UFO, where I really liked the character—all of his characters have that lonely, displaced, isolated mindset—so I liked how it was mysterious and I guess particularly in that short story I’m looking at the arrangement of the action and events in the story to figure out why it was so effective to me. It fascinated me how he takes these mundane and not particularly important events, but the way he puts them together and the aura he casts over them makes them really seem vivid and important in an eerie kind of way. I think in that story particularly he did it very well.

Q. Both books dig into the subconscious workings and effects of our habits and memories—is this a theme in your writing, perhaps in your new mystery novel “Murder Casts a Shadow”?

A. I think that I’m fascinated by that part of life, of my life anyway. I’m really interested in dreams and in what’s going on underneath things and what the subtext of our life is. Some of the things Rupert Sheldrake is investigating are important for us to understand as human beings. And I think that Murakami, and certain other writers too, that’s why they write that way. They want to explore that part of themselves and being human, too. So I guess they are connected in a way.

I think it relates to what I do as a playwright and in some of my short stories. There’s a little of some of those things in my new mystery but they’re culturally based. Some of the things we talk about in this western context—research, fiction—are ideas and beliefs systems that are in Polynesian culture already, and they’re just part of the culture not something theoretical. So in that way I like to see those connections or at least I feel them somehow.