Jewish rescue biography wins Costa Prize

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Lien de Jong was nine when she was taken in by Bart van Es’s family

A book about a young Jewish girl who was sheltered by the author’s grandparents during World War Two has won the Costa Book of the Year award.

Oxford professor Bart van Es picked up the £30,000 prize for The Cut Out Girl.

He traces the story of the Dutch girl who was taken in at the age of nine by van Es’s grandparents before her own parents were sent to Auschwitz.

That girl was Lien de Jong, who is now in her mid-80s and attended Tuesday’s ceremony in London.

The judges – chaired by BBC News journalist Sophie Raworth – described the book as “sensational and gripping – the hidden gem of the year”.

De Jong told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row she never realised her story could make such an impact.

“I’m very proud of this result and I never thought it could be a book,” she said.

Van Es 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 anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism and conspiracy theories are around in a way they weren’t 10 years ago. But also another way in which it is quite a healing book.”

The Costa Book of the Year was chosen from the winners from five individual categories. The Cut Out Girl won the biography prize, and the other category winners were:

  • Novel – Sally Rooney, Normal People
Image copyright Jonny I Davies/Faber & Faber

This is the second work of fiction from the 27-year-old Irish author who has taken the literary world by storm.

It follows the on-off relationship between two Irish schoolfriends and won rave reviews when it was published last August. It was named the Waterstone’s book of the year and is now being turned into a BBC drama.

  • First novel – Stuart Turton, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Image copyright Charlotte Graham/Bloomsbury

Travel writer Turton’s debut novel is a sci-fi murder mystery that channels Agatha Christie, Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap.

Its main character relives a single day eight times – each time inhabiting a different person’s body as he tries to work out who has committed murder in a country house. The TV rights were sold even before it was published last February.

  • Poetry – JO Morgan, Assurances
Image copyright Jonathan Cape

The Scottish poet’s sixth book was inspired by his father’s work as part of Bomber Command during the Cold War.

It is a single long-form poem told from the perspectives of various characters, including pilots, planes, villagers and even the bombs.

  • Children’s – Hilary McKay, The Skylarks’ War
Image copyright Pan Macmillan

Clarry and Peter Penrose spend idyllic summers in Cornwall with their charismatic cousin Rupert – until he is sent to fight in World War One.

The story follows Clarry from birth to adulthood and centres on the characters’ quests to escape both the shadow of war and the social constraints of the time.

Last year’s overall winner was the late poet Helen Dunmore for her final collection, Inside the Wave.

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