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The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es

The extraordinary true story of a young Jewish girl in Holland during World War II, who hides from the Nazis in the homes of an underground network of foster families, one of them the author’s grandparents

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Bart van Es left Holland for England many years ago, but one story from his Dutch childhood never left him. It was a mystery of sorts: a young Jewish girl named Lientje had been taken in during the war by relatives and hidden from the Nazis, handed over by her parents, who understood the danger they were in all too well. The girl had been raised by her foster family as one of their own, but then, well after the war, there was a falling out, and they were no longer in touch. What was the girl’s side of the story, Bart wondered? What really happened during the war, and after?

So began an investigation that would consume Bart van Es’s life, and change it. After some sleuthing, he learned that Lientje was now in her 80s and living in Amsterdam. Somewhat reluctantly, she agreed to meet him, and eventually they struck up a remarkable friendship, even a partnership. The Cut Out Girl braids together a powerful recreation of that intensely harrowing childhood story of Lientje’s with the present-day account of Bart’s efforts to piece that story together, including bringing some old ghosts back into the light.

It is a story rich with contradictions. There is great bravery and generosity–first Lientje’s parents, giving up their beloved daughter, and then the Dutch families who face great danger from the Nazi occupation for taking Lientje and other Jewish children in. And there are more mundane sacrifices a family under brutal occupation must make to provide for even the family they already have. But tidy Holland also must face a darker truth, namely that it was more cooperative in rounding up its Jews for the Nazis than any other Western European country; that is part of Lientje’s story too. Her time in hiding was made much more terrifying by the energetic efforts of the local Dutch authorities, zealous accomplices in the mission of sending every Jew, man, woman and child, East to their extermination. And Lientje was not always particularly well treated, and sometimes, Bart learned, she was very badly treated indeed.

The Cut Out Girl is an astonishment, a deeply moving reckoning with a young girl’s struggle for survival during war, a story about the powerful love of foster families but also the powerful challenges, and about the ways our most painful experiences define us but also can be redefined, on a more honest level, even many years after the fact. A triumph of subtlety, decency and unflinching observation, The Cut Out Girl is a triumphant marriage of many keys of writing, ultimately blending them into an extraordinary new harmony, and a deeper truth.

Weight242 g
Dimensions193 × 129 × 18 mm
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288

Superb. This is a necessary book—painful, harrowing, tragic, but also uplifting

The Times

Deeply moving. . . . Writes with an almost Sebaldian simplicity and understatement

The Guardian

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

Judges of the 2018 Costa Award

Author Bart van EsBart van Es is a Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St. Catherine’s College. He is the author of Spenser’s Forms of History, Shakespeare in Company, and Shakespeare’s Comedies. He was born in the Netherlands and now lives with his family in England.

1 review for The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es

  1. Adam Garcia

    The Cut Out Girl was recently named the Costa Book Awards Book of the Year 2018 and given that it was up against some stiff competition, this had to be next on my reading list.

    The book originates from Bart van Es delving a little deeper into his family history and their roots in The Netherlands. As a child, parts of his family history were well known but some things were left unsaid. ‘Without families you don’t get stories’ is this line that both starts and ends the book and in this case there was a fascinating story to tell and to be heard.

    This is the story of Lien. As a young Jewish girl growing up in the Hague, her parents gave her away to foster parents in the provinces with the hope that she would be safe during the German occupation. There she found herself in the care of the van Es family, Bart’s grandparents. Lien was happy playing with the other children around her and, at least initially, assuming that she would return to her parents before too long. Days turn to weeks and weeks into months and gradually Lien realises that she is not returning to her parents.

    Many have read The Diary of Anne Frank and you will find this book sitting alongside it in on the bookshelf. However, The Cut Out Girl provides a different perspective in several ways that makes it compulsory reading.

    Bart van Es tells the story as a collaboration with Lien, alternating chapters between Lien’s retelling of her memories and Bart retracing her steps as she moved first to live with the van Es family and then beyond. In the background, Bart researches the events that impact on Lien’s life and tries to fill in the blanks to explain what happens to some of the characters that only play a fleeting part in Lien’s existence and the story she tells.

    Despite being moved on from the van Es family, Lien does return to them but her relationship with Bart’s grandmother has changed. It is this relationship that forms the backbone of The Cut Out Girl and through Lien’s eyes we see how it shapes her into the person she grows up to become.

    Throughout the book we are reminded of the extraordinary lengths that many Jewish and non Jewish families went to in order to protect their children during this shocking and unspeakably difficult period. Understandably Bart is very proud of what his grandparents did to protect Lien however the story also unearths skeletons that have long been buried and forgotten.

    Talking at the Costa Book Awards ceremony, Bart explains how his curiosity into his family history led to him finding a best friend in Lien. A truly remarkable account of humanity, kindness, survival and betrayal.

    And why is she called The Cut Out Girl? Well you will just have to read it to find out.

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