The story of a Holocaust survivor and her plight during the Second World War has won the Costa Book Of The Year award.
Dutch author Bart van Es won the prize for his “incredibly important” biography The Cut Out Girl, which tells the story of Lien de Jong, a Jewish girl who was taken in by his grandparents in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
Now 85, she joined Van Es on stage as the annual award was presented, and said she finally felt she had been given “a story”.
Van Es, an Oxford academic, said: “There are two ways in which it could be a good book to have in the world.
“There’s a scary way in which antisemitism and extreme nationalism and conspiracy theories are around in a way that they weren’t 10 years ago. But also another way in which it is quite a healing book.”
The Cut Out Girl gives expression to the experience of wartime Jews, and families, in the aftermath of trauma.
Ms De Jong was hidden with a Christian foster family – Van Es’s grandparents – before her own birth parents were transported and murdered.
Van Es said he felt like he had “never known someone as well as I have known Lien”.
The Cut Out Girl tells the story of Ms De Jong’s remarkable survival – 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.
Ms De Jong thanked Van Es for telling her story to the world.
“I never thought I had a story that would be worth writing down,” she said. “He wrote it down and it was a story.
“There was a story, but after the war nobody spoke about it, it was not an issue, not a subject.
“Nobody knew about this story before the war, nobody knew about this story during the war. After the war there was no story, nobody knew anyone who was living before the war.
“I was not born until after the war. I was alive, but my feeling was I just started after the war – before that time I had no words.”
Judges selected the “incredibly important” book for its deft handling of history and memory, and said choosing it as the winner “wasn’t a difficult decision”.
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.
Van Es follows previous winner Helen Dunmore, who was posthumously honoured in 2018 for her final poetry collection Inside The Wave.
This year, Sally Rooney became the youngest winner in the novel category, for Normal People, while Stuart Turton won the first novel award for his debut, The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle.
The award for poetry went to JO Morgan for the long work Assurances, while the children’s book award winner was Hilary McKay with The Skylarks’ War.