Surviving Survival

Little Lien wasn’t taken from her Jewish parents – she was given away in the hope that she might be saved. Hidden and raised by a foster family in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, she survived the war only to find that her real parents had not. Much later, she fell out with her foster family, and Bart van Es, the grandson of Lien’s foster parents, knew he needed to find out why. His account of tracing Lien and telling her story is a searing exploration of two lives and two families. After winning the 2018 Costa Award, author of The Cut-out Girl Bart van Es comes to Hay to discuss the award winning work. We asked him how readers have reacted to such a personal story...

It’s been so moving that people feel so personally touched by it, I think of it as being a very universal story because almost all families have someone they don’t talk to anymore or someone they’ve had a row with so it makes you have this very intimate contact  with people, sometimes they’ll say things like I have an aunt who was a Kindertransport child but sometimes it’s a much more distant connection like not speaking to a brother for many years. The book is ultimately this huge story of the war but also a very intimate story about a set of people who fall out.

The book has been only a positive experience, so many colleagues at Oxford talk to me differently now because they have that personal connection with me and when you have a whole row of people at book signings, almost all of them have that connection too. What’s relatively new about the book is that it’s about surviving survival, it’s not something as simple a survivor’s guilt but this set of obligations and uncertainties people have, an unwillingness to speak about what happened, you’re at the very last decade of people who have personal memories of that time. Last week I was speaking to one of the last people to have known Anne Frank, he’s still got that incredible connection, he was there at the birthday party when the diary was given and you think wow, that clearly isn’t going to be the case in ten years’ time.

I find Hay Festival absolutely stunning, it’s just so intense with so many things flying at you and I’m definitely going to become a regular now, you get on a little shuttle bus and suddenly you’re surrounded by the world’s authors, it feels like the centre of the world when you’re here.