Old Ardinian wins the 2019 Costa Book of the Year

Old Ardinian, Bart van Es, has won the 2019 Costa Book of the Year award for his biography ‘The Cut Out Girl’, which the judges called “extraordinary”.

The harrowing true story details the life of Lien de Jong, now 85 years old, who was in attendance at the ceremony and joined van Es on stage pronouncing: “Without family you don’t have a story. Now I have a story … Bart has reopened the channels of family”.

Van Es, an alumni of Ardingly College and a professor of English at Oxford, knew his grandparents had been part of the Dutch resistance and knew of the young Jewish girl – De Jong – who had been in hiding with them. But the family had fallen out with De Jong in the 1980s, and he began to wonder what had happened to her. He tracked her down in Amsterdam and after an initial awkwardness, due to the falling out 40 years earlier, they struck up a friendship.

De Jong, it turned out, had kept a great deal of documentation about her life, including the letter her mother had sent to van Es’s family who would raise her daughter. “She has been taken from me by circumstance. May you, with the best will and wisdom, look after her”,” she wrote in August 1942.

The Cut Out Girl is van Es’s piecing together of De Jong’s difficult youth. The chair of judges, BBC presenter Sophie Raworth said: “It’s a very important book. 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 life today, the number of displaced people there are and the number of stories that go untold.”  She continued, “It’s beautifully written, very understated. We were all very much surprised by it. It very much felt like a hidden gem that we really wanted to put the spotlight on”.”