The Costa Book Awards are a unique combination of prestige and populism, their esteem recognized throughout the world. The aim of these awards is to honor serious literary achievement while also recognizing books that spread the joy of reading to as broad an audience as possible. Their consideration of the general public-not just the literary elite-is their main distinction from the Booker Prize. Named for their sponsor, Costa Coffee, the awards honor authors who have resided in the UK or Ireland for at least six months in each of the past three years.
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There are five total award categories: novel, first novel, children’s book, poetry, and biography. When deciding its Book of the Year, the Costa Book Awards’ panel of judges (all professionals in the field of literature, from authors to editors to bookstore owners) chooses from one of the five winners. The 2018 winners garnered serious media buzz: Sally Rooney‘s Normal People won attention, acclaim, and the Costa Novel Award. At twenty-seven, Rooney is the youngest Costa Award-winner. With such an impressive lineup, it’s with great honor that the Costa Awards acknowledge Bart van Es‘ Holocaust survivor biography, The Cut Out Girl.
Lien de Jong, Holocaust survivor
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The biography follows the life of Lien de Jong, a Holocaust survivor now in her 80s. At the age of nine, the young Jewish girl found refuge with van Es’ grandparents after her own parents were condemned to Auschwitz. When Lien later estranged herself from the family, van Es committed himself to finding out why. Van Es was the only person to whom Lien would tell her story. “Nobody spoke about it during the war or after the war… The time before that, I had no words. I never thought I had a story,” she confessed, “but Bart wrote it down and it was a story.” De Jong was present at the ceremony.
Biographer van Es and subject de Jong
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Since receiving the prize, van Es has spoken on the book’s timeliness and value:
There’s a scary way in which anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism and conspiracy theories are around in a way they weren’t 10 years ago. But also another way in which it is quite a healing book.
The book has thus far sold around 6,000 copies. Do you plan to give this one a try?
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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.
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.
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