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photo by Mariel Kolmschot

Pia de Jong is a prize-winning literary novelist and newspaper columnist who moved to the U.S. from Amsterdam in 2012. Her memoir, Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition, is her first book in English.

Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition

Best-selling author Pia de Jong’s vivid memoir about her newborn daughter’s battle with leukemia and the startling decision that led to her recovery.

Video: Pia de Jong talks about the amazing story behind “Saving Charlotte”

When her newborn daughter Charlotte is diagnosed with a rare and deadly leukemia, Pia and her husband Robbert make a momentous decision: they reject potentially devastating chemotherapy and instead choose to “wait for what will come.” As the following year unfolds, Pia enters a disorienting world of doctors, medical procedures, and a colorful cast of neighbors and protectors in her native Amsterdam. Her seventeenth-century canal house becomes her inner sanctum, a private “cocoon” where she sweeps away distractions in order to give Charlotte the unfiltered love and strength she needs. Pia’s instinctive decision, now known as “watchful waiting,” has become another viable medical option in many cases like Charlotte’s.

This deeply felt memoir reveals the galvanizing impact one child can have on a family, a neighborhood, and a worldwide medical community. Vivid and immersive, Saving Charlotte is also a portrait of one woman’s brave voyage of love, of hope, and, in its inspiring climax, of self-discovery.

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Latest Articles, Columns, Short Stories

Fireflies Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

It’s finally summer in Princeton. We had to wait until late spring to get warm, but now the roses are blooming and the air is dripping with fragrant honeysuckle. The town is slowly settling into the lazy hazy days of summer. My daughter prepares to say goodbye to her classmates who will be traveling all over the world. She already misses her brothers, who flew the coop last year. “I thought that we would always be together as a family,” she says, sitting by herself at the kitchen table. Now she has to make do with us, her parents, who give her just a bit too much attention.

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This is an amazing and true story and a must-read, no matter where you are in your life.

A Dutch couple has its third child, a much-adored daughter, but it quickly becomes apparent there is something wrong with her.

The doctors do tests, knowing what they will find.

The baby has ‘congenital myeloid leukaemia’, a serious condition she was born with.

Her parents are given the option of hospitalisation for her with chemotherapy treatment, but there is no guarantee of a cure attached to it.

In fact, the opposite is more likely.

Almost without consultation, the parents decide to take her home, forgoing treatment the option.

Family and friends are not necessarily in agreement, but Pia de Jong and her husband have decided.

They will look after her and wait to see what happens. They can only hope with love and care from those around her Charlotte will fight the dread disease and go into remission by herself, without the alarming chemotherapy treatment.

Although the book is relatively short, we are given a detailed description of this family’s life; the two barely older brothers, the parents, and the way they live with and handle this truly heart-wrenching situation, in an old and busy part of Amsterdam.

Parents, friends and neighbours all contribute to this story and its resolution.

de Jong paints a great picture of inner Amsterdam, with its canals, its alleyways, its tall, narrow old houses, and its amazing diversity of residents, many of whom are a part of Charlotte’s story.

The family eventually moves to the United States.

When the author goes back to visit her old neighbourhood it has irrevocably changed, but her memories remain.

Wonderfully written, this is a beautiful book. Ask your library.

—Lee Stephenson

New York New York Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Whenever my neighbor gets off the train at Penn Station, he jumps on the platform, throws out his arms, and sings, “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town! The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down!” He doesn’t realize it, but this song from the musical On The Town is a mnemonic device to help me find my way around town.

People born with an internal compass can hardly imagine my panic when I walk into a city. According to my dear partner, who finds his way everywhere without looking, I am afflicted with “anti-sensory direction.” Intuitively, I always walk exactly the wrong way.

Angelsinamerica Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

I grew up with angels. My Catholic youth was full of stories about sublime beings who descended from heaven to warn us, to help us, and to predict our future. Angels arrived in my dreams, smoothing their feathers in gleams of blindingly white light.
  Angels were not always beautiful and nice. On the wall at my school was a print by Gustave Dore showing the biblical Jacob wrestling with a mysterious angel. Jacob struggles until daybreak with the vastly larger angel looming over him. I held my breath whenever I passed it.
   But not in my wildest dreams did I foresee the struggle that Prior Walter has with his angel in the play, “Angels in America.” This iconic and acclaimed work by Tony Kushner is now celebrating its triumphant return to Broadway 25 years after its premiere.

Dyson Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

In 1989 I moved to Princeton for the first time, crossing the wide ocean from Amsterdam. During our farewells at the airport, my father gave me a box filled with airmail stationery; my mother presented a fountain pen. I knew what to do. I still remember how, in my new apartment, I let the thin blue sheets slide through my fingers. The fountain pen had leaked during the flight. “I am writing my first letter on my newly purchased kitchen table!” I announced. “The house feels hollow, our stuff has not yet arrived. I miss my teapot.”

The recently published autobiography, “Maker of Patterns,” by the physicist Freeman Dyson, who has been a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study for 70 years, consists solely of the many letters he sent to his family over the years. He wrote the first one when he started studying at the age of seventeen at Cambridge University.