Bart van Es has won the Costa Book Of The Year Award for his “incredibly important” account of family bonds and Holocaust trauma, The Cut Out Girl.
The Dutch author was joined on stage to receive the award by the subject of his unique biography, Lien, a Jewish girl who escaped persecution in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
She escaped the mass murder of the Holocaust in the care of Christian sympathisers, and spent time in the household of Van Es’s grandparents before being “cut out” of yet another temporary family.
His work is both the resolution of a family mystery and an account of harrowing trauma.
The Cut Out Girl tells the story both of eight-year-old Lien’s remarkable salvation from extermination – more than 100,000 of the Netherlands’ 140,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust – and of the author’s growing bond with his subject.
BBC news presenter Sophie Raworth chaired the panel of judges which selected the book for its deft handling of history and memory, and said choosing it as the winner “wasn’t a difficult decision”.
She said: “It’s the winner because it’s a book that really surprised us. It’s an incredibly important book, it’s very moving, it’s an extraordinary collaboration. It changed both their lives.
“We felt as judges that it had a huge resonance with people today, with the amount of displaced people that there are today and the number of stories that go untold. And it has huge resonance from the time of the last survivors.
“It talks about the way that trauma silences people. It happens over and over again, whether it’s veterans from the Second World War, First World War, or people who have gone through conflicts today.”
The work is also a redemptive look at family, and the act of creating it brought Van Es and Lien – born to birth parents Charles and Catharine de Jong-Spiero before their transportation and murder – to a touching resolution after a long-running family row.
Now in her eighties, the survivor attended the Costa Book Awards ceremony in London alongside Van Es, just two days after Holocaust Memorial Day.
She is now part of a family again, and part of a project which has been honoured by the literary establishment.
Raworth said of the evening and the book: “It’s the Cut Out Girl being brought back into the fold.”
She added: “It’s about families. Because, as Van Es says, ‘Without families you don’t get stories’.”
The Cut Out Girl won the category for best biography, and went head to head with other winners for the Book Of The Year Award and its £30,000 prize.
Sally Rooney, who became the youngest winner in the novel category, did not prevail overall.
Stuart Turton won the first novel award for his debut, The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle, a complex and pacey murder mystery set in a 1920s country house.
The award for poetry went to JO Morgan for the long work Assurances.
The children’s book award winner was Hilary McKay with The Skylarks’ War.
The previous winner was Helen Dunmore, who was posthumously honoured for her final poetry collection Inside The Wave.
Raworth chaired the judging panel, which included Prue Leith, Kate Humble and Simon Williams.
Rachel Joyce represents the novel category, with Sathnam Sanghera the debut award, Anita Sethi for biography, Mimi Khalvati for poetry, and broadcaster Rick O’Shea for the children’s book category.