Bart van Es and Lien de Jong, the subject of the Costa Book of the Year-winning The Cut Out Girl

Bart van Es and Lien de Jong, the subject of his Costa Book of the Year-winning biography The Cut Out Girl

Oxford University professor Bart van Es has won this year's Costa Book of the Year award for The Cut Out Girl - the story of Lien de Jong, a girl taken to a foster family (Bart's own grandparents) to be hidden away from the Nazis during the Second World War. Published by Fig Tree, the book sees Bart exploring her side of the story, asking what really happened her to her during the war and after.  

The £30,000 prize is chosen from the winners from five individual categories, with The Cut Out Girl up against Normal People by Sally Rooney; The Seven Death of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton; Hilary McKay's The Skylarks War; and Jonathan Cape poet J. O. Morgan's collection Assurances. Previous winners have included Hilary Mantel, Helen Dunmore and Kate Atkinson.

Bart van Es at the Costa Book Awards

Now 85, Lien de Jong attended last night's ceremony, and spoke to The Guardian about what the book meant to her, commenting that "Without family you don’t have a story. Now I have a story ... Bart has reopened the channels of family." BBC journalist and chair of the judges Sophie Raworth stressed the importance of the book within today's world, commenting: "It’s a story that would never have been told if he hadn’t gone in search of it. We all thought it had huge resonance with today, the number of displaced people there are today and the number of stories that go untold."

Bart's editor Juliet Annan also paid tribute to the book and author: "It was so exciting to see Bart win last night at the Costa Awards, and particularly emotional because 85 year old Lien de Jong, the subject of his family memoir, was there with us. This is a thoroughly European book that is so timely, moving and brilliant in the way it talks about displacement and family stories, even while it tells a family story over the last sixty years."

  • The Cut Out Girl


    'Luminous, elegant, haunting - I read it straight through' Philippe Sands, author of East West Street

    'Superb. This is a necessary book - painful, harrowing, tragic, but also uplifting' The Times Book of the Week

    The last time Lien saw her parents was in the Hague when she was collected at the door by a stranger and taken to a city far away to be hidden from the Nazis. She was raised by her foster family as one of their own, but a falling out well after the war meant they were no longer in touch. What was her side of the story, Bart van Es - a grandson of the couple who looked after Lien - wondered? What really happened during the war, and after?

    So began an investigation that would consume and transform both Bart van Es's life and Lien's. Lien was now in her 80s and living in Amsterdam. Reluctantly, she agreed to meet him, and eventually they struck up a remarkable friendship. The Cut Out Girl braids together a powerful recreation of Lien's intensely harrowing childhood story with the present-day account of Bart's efforts to piece that story together. And it embraces the wider picture, too, for Holland was more cooperative in rounding up its Jews for the Nazis than any other Western European country; that is part of Lien's story too.

    This is an astonishing, moving reckoning with a young girl's struggle for survival during war. It is a story about the powerful love and challenges of foster families, and about the ways our most painful experiences - so crucial in defining us - can also be redefined.

    'Deeply moving. Van Es writes with an almost Sebaldian simplicity and understatement' Guardian

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