Lydia Cutler, a Solana Beach resident, self-published a novel based on her experience as an immigrant from the Soviet Union who came to the U.S. with her husband and young son in the 1970s.
Cutler said she began writing the book, “Four Countries One Life,” almost 20 years ago in New York, where her family lived for nearly 40 years before moving to San Diego, but didn’t want to publish it. After her husband died in 2015, with her two sons grown and immigration policy in the U.S. a persisting hot topic, she changed her mind.
“I decided, what am I afraid of really?” said Cutler, who was born in Kiev, which is in present-day Ukraine.
Modeled closely on her own experiences, the story is about a Jewish girl named Lilli Kaplan who comes of age in the Soviet Union, where her family is forced to endure an anti-Semitic culture, and her father has to illegally moonlight selling leather goods to make ends meet. Lilli meets her husband, and together they move to Israel and Brussels before settling in the U.S. Only about 15% of the story is fictionalized, Cutler said.
“For me it’s very, very important because I prevailed, I survived,” she said.
Just like in the book, Cutler and her family left Israel and went to Brussels as they awaited visas to enter the U.S. Upon arriving in America in 1975, when she was nearly 30 years old, Cutler and her husband, who got a job in metal stamping, had a second son and settled in Long Island.
The theme of the book is especially timely during an era when U.S. policy on immigration is mired in a political deadlock, and the current treatment of detainees at detention centers along the U.S. border with Mexico is under particular scrutiny by Democratic politicians and immigrant rights groups. Many are from Central America, trying to flee violence and oppressive political regimes in their home countries, similar to why Cutler and many others fled the USSR decades ago.
“The challenges faced by immigrants, regardless of their backgrounds, transcend time and geographic borders,” Cutler said, adding that she wants to “shed some light on the immigrant experience, and the often overwhelming obstacles that must be overcome in trading one’s homeland for another.”
Cutler moved to Solana Beach in 2012. Her older son is a molecular biologist in San Francisco, and her younger son is a scriptwriter in Los Angeles. She said she believes “it’s a needed book for many reasons.”
“I want immigrants to know that it’s possible,” she added. “Don’t be afraid. Just go, don’t stop.”
Cutler’s novel is available on amazon.com.