Cotati author chronicles sex, drugs and kibbutzim

Some people think of their life as an open book. For Lisa Osina, it's literally true.

The Cotati resident writes about her tumultuous teen years on an Israeli kibbutz in her semi-autobiographical first novel, "Moving."

Perhaps the prefix "semi" is a stretch. Given Osina's amazing true-life tale — leaving behind a comfortable middle-class existence in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to take up cow-milking, manure-shoveling and pot-smoking in 1970s Israel — little embellishment was necessary (some names, places and sexual details were fictionalized).

Today, Osina lives with her husband in pastoral Sonoma County, far from Kabri, the northern Israeli kibbutz she called home for eight years. There are no Katyusha rockets falling in the fields behind her anymore. But the impact of growing up an outsider in a war zone continues to resonate with Osina, which is why she felt compelled to write.

"The emotions in the story are 100 percent accurate," she says of her novel. "I was just as rebellious as Lucy [the novel's teenage protagonist]."

Rebelliousness is common among teens. How much more so considering the time period (the turbulent early 1970s), the setting (a left-wing kibbutz) and Osina herself, ripped from her independence-minded American lifestyle and dropped into the regimented mentality of an Israeli collective farm.

In the novel, Lucy stubbornly clings to her American ways, only gradually learning Hebrew ("Heebs" as she calls it) and adapting to Israeli life. Along the way, she learns the value of hard work, discovers sex, indulges in drugs and alcohol, and ultimately decides Israel is not her place.

Interestingly, the character of Lucy, though Jewish and Israeli, never comes to fully identify with her heritage. That mirrors Osina's own experience.

"I was raised atheist," she says. "Judaism the religion was not in our household." Yet her Zionist mother and stepfather felt compelled to make aliyah (they live in Israel to this day). Their kibbutz was a socialistic enclave where Jewishness meant nationhood, not religion.

"I had no respect for Israelis," says Osina of her first impressions. "It was a Mickey Mouse country: Nothing worked. It's much better now."

In fact today, as an expatriate Israeli, she feels closer than ever to the Jewish homeland. Says Osina: "When you're far away, the [terrorism] rips into you. When you're there, it's communal mourning. Everyone shares the burden. But the killing gets to me."

In the novel, Lucy avoids joining the Israeli army by marrying and, eventually, leaving the country. That's what Osina did, moving to England to work in the theater. She ended up staying 14 years, and she still speaks with a trace of a British accent.

For readers interested in what happens to Lucy after Israel, Osina begs patience. She's planning three more novels in her series, with the next one, "Lucy's Web," already completed and awaiting publication.

Though Osina hasn't lived in Israel for many years, her ties to the country remain strong, and she returns often. On a visit to Kabri a few years ago, she met Ofer, who like her, was the "black sheep" of the kibbutz. They fell in love and married, eventually settling in Cotati.

She began writing "Moving" about five years ago, setting aside weekend mornings to work while classic rock softly played on the radio beside her. The writing came easily, often pouring out in torrents ("channeling" she calls it).

Osina published the book through the Internet Book Company, which allows readers to download the entire text. It is also for sale at San Francisco's A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books.

Though Osina's Jewishness certainly informs her work, she does not consider herself a practicing Jew. "I'm Jewish in a Brooklyn way, in a food way, in a holidays way," she says. "I love our culture."

Like most authors, Osina still keeps her day job. Today, she works for a San Francisco CPA firm, coordinating special needs accounting services for seniors, widows, disabled and others.

Meanwhile, she continues to chip away at her full quartet of novels, shepherding "Lucy" safely through to adulthood. "I love Lucy," says Osina of her alter ego. "She can do and say things I can't. It's definitely therapeutic for me to write. I've really been through it, and now I've earned it."

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.