For Hebrew readers who would like a glimpse at what life is like for Israelis in America, Noga Niv's debut novel, Story from the Bubble, will make for a round look into their experiences. This character-driven story focuses on five Israeli women who have gathered for a weekend in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains to say farewell to one of their group, Gabi, who is moving back to Israel with her husband. While Gabi is eager to return home, her husband is still coming to terms with the upcoming change.
But Gabi isn't the only character who finds herself beset by difficulties - despite the fact that all of the women live in Silicon Valley at the height of its splendor, before the Internet bubble burst - each arrives at the cabin carrying her own history and her own problems. There's Daniela, the psychologist who is grappling with her husband's renewed friendship with an ex-girlfriend from high school. There's Anita, a woman who was raised in a lower-class family and who, along with her husband, suddenly finds herself awash in money, riding the crest of the Internet wave. There's Mika, a musician in her mid-40s who is wrestling with some unfinished childhood business.
And finally, there's Gila, an artist who pushed her husband for the move overseas so that they could further their daughter's blossoming musical talent. But Gila is struggling with an issue of voyeurism "and for that, you'll have to read the book," Niv says with a laugh. Of Gila, Niv also says, "She's a typical Israeli woman - very achievement oriented." Indeed, Niv feels that each of the women is an archetype of the Israeli experience in America.
As an Israeli who has been living in Silicon Valley for 17 years, Niv refers to Story from the Bubble as bio-fiction. "I wrote the book and people asked me, 'Is it nonfiction or fiction?" she recalls. She says that she most closely identifies with Daniela, and that the story is deeply rooted not only in the experiences she has had in America, but also in her practice as a clinical psychologist.
To create such round, complete characters, Niv made composites of people she's known socially as well as patients she's treated. "Some of the characters are based on patients, but they're built in a way that no one is identifiable. All of the characters are built from about six different people," she says.
Ultimately, though, Niv's personal experiences are what served as the impetus to commit the Story from the Bubble to paper. "I always wanted to write a book," she says, but "at some point there was a trigger." The spark came around 2001, she recalls, with the advent of Hevre, a social networking Web site where Israelis can reconnect with people from a variety of settings. Through Hevre, Niv found herself reestablishing contact with people from childhood. This rediscovery of old friends, via the Internet, is something that is mirrored and explored in her novel. The characters "recognize a loss of a period of their life because they're so far away. So they begin to question what would have happened if they hadn't crossed the ocean."
Given the fact that the novel is set in America around 2001, many potential readers may be curious as to whether or not 9/11 reverberates in the background. Niv chose not to mention the event, saying that she was "relating more to the intifada." This focus testifies to her sentiment that though she has lived in the US for close to 20 years, she remains "very much an Israeli." She feels that "Israelis don't disconnect from their homeland." Rather than hyphenating their identity and becoming Israeli-American, they become Israelis living in America, Niv says.
How the characters relate to themselves within today's global village is also a central theme. Niv says that within the context of postmodern life, when the world is becoming smaller and people are more mobile, everyone needs to define himself or herself and figure out where he or she belongs - even if he or she is living elsewhere. Niv feels that men more readily see themselves as members of a worldwide community, whereas women often feel out of place when they are abroad, like Gabi in the novel.
"It might be a clichÃ©," she acknowledges, "but as a psychologist, I see this a lot." Niv recalls that when she first moved to Silicon Valley she "felt like a tourist." It was raising her two children - now 20 and 24 - overseas that made her engage with those questions of identity. She remembers wondering, "Who are they? Where do they belong? Do we belong to the global village?"
Her children have a foot in both worlds, but for Niv there's no question that Israel is her home. When asked if she, like Gabi, would like to return, she doesn't hesitate to offer the response, "It is one of my dreams."
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