The Cut Out Girl: A Story of War and Family, Lost and Found

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When Lien was a small girl, her parents made a heartbreaking decision in order to save her life: they sent her to live with another family, disguised as the other couple’s child. Shortly after, Lien’s parents were taken from their home in Amsterdam and died in a Nazi concentration camp.

Lien’s childhood was shaped by turmoil — shuttled from one foster family to another to escape detection, often feeling out of place and alone. Until, that is, she met the Van Es family, who treated her like their own daughter. As an adult, her close relationship with her adoptive family suddenly fractured, and decades passed without contact between them.

The Cut Out Girl is the story of Bart van Es’s determination to uncover the truth behind Lien’s relationship to his own grandparents: how they saved her life, raised her, and then cast her aside. In researching Lien’s life, Bart van Es reconstructs 1940s Amsterdam and the surrounding area, and creates a moving portrait of a child alone in the crosshairs of history.

Trigger warning for sexual abuse.

“‘Without families you don’t get stories.’ The woman who tells me this stands making coffee in her apartment in Amsterdam. Her name is Hesseline, Lien for short. She is over eighty and there is still a simple beauty about her: a clear complexion without noticeable makeup; a little silver watch but no other jewelry; and shiny, unpainted nails. She is brisk in manner but also somehow bohemian, dressed in a long dark gray cardigan with a flowing claret paisley scarf. Before today I have no memory of ever having met her. All the same, I know that this woman grew up with my father, who was born in the Netherlands immediately after the war. She was once part of my family, but this is no longer the case. A letter was sent and a connection was broken. Even now, nearly thirty years later, it still hurts Lien to speak of these things.”

Bart van Es is an author and an academic. Born in the Netherlands, he now lives in the United Kingdom and teaches at the University of Oxford. His published works include Spenser's Forms of History, A Critical Companion to Spenser Studies, and The Cut Out Girl.

Published: 2018
Length: 304 pages
Set in: Amsterdam, the Netherlands