Winner: Best Biography of the Year
The Costa Judges: ‘The hidden gem of the year. Sensational and gripping, and shedding light on some of the most urgent issues of our time, this was our unanimous winner.’
A chilling portrayal of trauma and its aftermath, The Cut Out Girl is not only a testament to Lien’s resilience, but also to the bravery of the van Es family and others like them, who took great risks to save innocent lives. In both strands of this narrative, van Es remains admirably honest about the complex, contradictory aspects of human interactions. His book is infinitely the richer for it.
Winner of the 2018 Costa biography award, this deeply moving account of Lien’s life is the result of his personal journey into the history of his family and his country’s treatment of the Jews. Many felt their suffering was not adequately acknowledged after the war. Unbelievably, some even received tax demands for the time they spent in the camps. Writing with an almost Sebaldian simplicity and understatement, Van Es weaves together history and Lien’s recollections to tell the story of her traumatic childhood.
Van Es tells Lien’s story with stark simplicity. That’s entirely appropriate, since elegant prose would be superfluous to this harrowing tale. The drama lies in the events, not in the manner of their reconstruction. Descriptions of Lien’s life are juxtaposed with accounts of the author’s experiences while piecing together her war. He found so much that she did not know. Van Es, a professor of English at the University of Oxford, calls her the “cut out girl” because she was so easily removed from one scene and placed in another. She was often unaware of the holes she left behind. In some households she was cherished like a daughter or a sister, only to vanish without a goodbye. One gift Van Es was able to give Lien was evidence that she had been loved.