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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

Fulfillment Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

I am driving through the tranquil New Jersey countryside near Robbinsville when a mirage suddenly rises out of the mists in front of me. It is the gigantic Hindu temple BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. This fairytale building, the largest Hindu temple in the world, is breathtaking in its splendor: sculpted Italian marble, Turkish limestone, almost Gve million man-hours of carved Indian sculptures. This improbable exotic sight is only a few miles away from the bare and austere Protestant church in the nearby town.

I take off my shoes and walk inside in my socks. People sightseeing seem to Joat between marble pillars embellished with carved elephants. Worshippers exuberantly pour water over the head of a sculpted child in an idyllic garden. The mood of the whole temple is festive. The elephants are happy, the dancers in the murals are smiling, the golden images of the gods are festooned with Jowers. Outside this morning there was frost on the grass.

Carillon Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

‘Time in the Netherlands sings,” wrote the Italian Edmondo De Amicis in 1874 in his book “Olanda,” referring to the sounds of the omnipresent carillons that accompanied him on his journey through Holland.

Princeton has its own version. At regular times, the fourth University Carilloneur, Lisa J. Lonie, climbs the 197 stairs of the Collegiate Gothic Cleveland Tower and starts to pound 20 tons of bronze bells with her fists and feet. A tsunami of sound pours out over the quiet town. Closing windows and doors makes no sense. Everyone in the widest range of earshot is recruited into her audience.

To quote Bertus Aafjes: “The whole sky is saturated with sound in an instant. It grumbles, it thunders, it hails, it clatters and suddenly there is another burst of sound.” The firmament is played, nothing less. Think of music as an atmospheric phenomenon.

Meanwhile 2 Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

I am seven years old. I have left my school early. The teacher has sent me to the house of my best friend, Tilly. She lives a short distance outside the village, in a farm between the meadows. Today she stayed

home because she did not feel well. I’ve walked this road often, but never without Tilly. It’s a little after 12 noon, hot and quiet. A few birds are perched on the barbed wire fences. There are deep cracks in the dirt road, and I do my best not to trip over loose stones. My knee socks have sagged, as have the hems of my green plaid skirt. The school is far behind me, a dot on the horizon. In front of me I see the low roof of Tilly’s farmhouse. I stop, hearing an airplane that traces a wispy line high in the sky. I follow it with my Dnger.

And then it happens. Out of nowhere I realize, in full force, that I am “Me.” Not my parents. Not Tilly. Just me, myself, and I. I exist. Here and now. I awake to my own life, in which I play the leading role. It is an overwhelming experience. I have crossed a threshold. I left one world and, with the shock of recognition, have discovered my own. How long I stood there on that sandy road under the burning sun with my new insight, I do not know. Not even how the rest of the afternoon went. I know I did not tell anyone. I never forgot, but I could not explain it either. But from that moment on, everything was different.

Michael Graves Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

One day he appeared, standing pontifically on our stovetop.

The gleaming Alessi Whistling Kettle that belonged to my

roommate. She could not stop talking about it. We finally

would have modern design in our humble student dorm. And

affordable, too. Of course, it was a lot more expensive than

the HEMA Whistling Kettle we already had, but, she said,

well worth the money.

I could not share her enthusiasm. I thought it was odd, with

its cone-shaped shiny belly. And then that red bird that

whistled when the water came to a boil. It was funny the first

time, but would I have to endure this every time I heated up

water for tea?

Nothing Goes Unnoticed Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

A dozen people sit down at a huge conference table on the 25th

8oor of a skyscraper in Manhattan. In the middle of the table is a

long slit bristling with charging outlets. One at a time we plug into

the slot our smart phones, notebook computers, and iPads, and

settle in behind our devices.

On the screen of the woman sitting next to me an image of a red

beating heart suddenly lights up. She blushes and quickly deletes

it. Zip! The man across from me pulls his iPad out of its charger

and stands up to take a panoramic picture of the view of the

Freedom Tower under a sky Jlled with snow 8urries. Back at the

conference table he sends off the photo in an email. Zip!

My shoes get entangled in a jumble of cables under the table.

Where are they going? Where is that place where all our

messages, photos, fears, losses, and desires are sent forever?

Doris Duke Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Americans like to say that behind every great fortune is a
great crime. But that is hard for me to imagine as I walk
through the bucolic Duke Farms on this sunny autumn day.
My guide is my gardener, William. He grew up near this
2,000-acre estate in Somerset County and became fascinated
by its bountiful trees and plantings. And he was equally
fascinated by Doris Duke, the remarkable, star-crossed
woman who inherited this extraordinary place. She led a life
filled with money and all the misfortunes it can bring.
Doris was the only child of the exorbitantly wealthy tobacco
manufacturer James Buchanan Duke, the philanthropic
maker of Lucky Strikes and Camel for whom Duke University
is named. When he died in 1925, the bulk of his estate went to
the 12-year-old Doris, whom everyone then named “the
richest girl in the world.”