STARRED REVIEW
August 2018

A Jewish girl’s journey through WWII

By Bart van Es

“I had always known that my grandparents sheltered Jewish children during the German occupation of the Netherlands,” Bart van Es writes in The Cut Out Girl. Growing up, van Es remembers hearing of a girl named Lien, who was taken in by his grandparents and hidden from the Nazis. She eventually became a member of the family, until a never-discussed rift severed the connection. In 2014, the senior member of van Es’ family died, setting him on a quest to find out what happened to Lien.

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“I had always known that my grandparents sheltered Jewish children during the German occupation of the Netherlands,” Bart van Es writes in The Cut Out Girl. Growing up, van Es remembers hearing of a girl named Lien, who was taken in by his grandparents and hidden from the Nazis. She eventually became a member of the family, until a never-discussed rift severed the connection. In 2014, the senior member of van Es’ family died, setting him on a quest to find out what happened to Lien.

To tell this story, the Dutch-born van Es, who teaches Renaissance literature at the University of Oxford, alternates between the present and World War II. The narration of the war years has a novelistic feel and takes on the viewpoint of Lien as a child. This method works well to convey the trauma Lien felt after losing her parents. She was shuttled from town to town and family to family without explanation, and she endured deprivation and abuse. The present-day sections of the book describe van Es’ meetings with the 80-year-old Lien, his retracing of her hiding places and his research, which fills the gaps in her memory. The book also makes wonderful use of Lien’s childhood poesy book (a kind of autograph book) and family photos and mementos.

Van Es sets scenes well, contrasting the Netherlands of the 21st century—with its liberal outlook and high-tech industries—with the far more rural and traditional Netherlands of the 1940s. He also notes the country’s complicated role in the Holocaust: While the Dutch were often heroic in their efforts to hide or transport Jews, they were also frighteningly efficient in turning Jews in to Nazi authorities. And though Lien isn’t named as a co-author, her own voice and the story of her survival, not just of the war but also of the decades afterward, come through clearly.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Cut Out Girl

The Cut Out Girl

By Bart van Es
Penguin Press
ISBN 9780735222243

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