His book The Cut Out Girl: A Story of War and Family, Lost and Found describes the life of a Jewish girl who was given away in the hope that she might be saved. It was Bart’s own grandparents who fostered her during the Nazi occupation.
Much later, she fell out with this foster family, and Bart said his father was quite worried about how the family would be depicted and did not want him to write the book. However, Bart said “this story is part of history” and sometimes the “larger truth is potentially worth the upset of a few people”.
Van Es admitted that it was strange at times writing the book “as a middle aged man having to put myself into the mind and body of a young girl”. Some parts, he said, were also deeply “traumatic” to write, in particular the sexual abuse she suffered with a different foster family. When interviewing Lien for the book he said he noticed that the more she moved around to different foster families “her memory becomes paler and less defined”, perhaps hiding the more painful memories.
However, he said, Lien is almost always happy and is glad to share her story and glad of its “contemporary relevance”. Bart recalled how Lien said to him “it’s history for me now. I’m at peace with it”.
The book won the 2018 Costa Award.
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Picture by Chris Athanasiou