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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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‘I hope the quota for dead children has been reached. That death has claimed enough of them.”

 The words belong to Dutch-born Princeton novelist and essayist Pia de Jong.They were what she had hoped for on the day she went to purchase a gravesite for her newborn daughter. Now they appear in de Jong’s just released book, “Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition.”

“I started writing (the book) with the scene of the grave,” de Jong says about her 255-page personal account of discovering her daughter, Charlotte, had congenital myeloid leukemia — a disease without any cure —and the decision to spare the infant from the debilitating effects of chemotherapy and “wait for what will come.” What came was the body’s ability to fight off the disease.

Saving Charlotte Jacket Cover Hi Res

Every night I dream about the little girl growing within me. She takes different shapes, forms and colors. Sometimes she has brown hair and hazel eyes…At night she sometimes appears to me
as an old woman…She sits in her room among all the precious things she has collected throughout her life…”

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In Pia de Jong’s gorgeous memoir, the author and her husband learn that their newborn Charlotte has incurable leukemia. Instead of opting for high-risk, probably futile treatment, they bring the
baby back to their Amsterdam house and shower her with love. Faith healers and naysayers descend, but there are also friends and a never-give-up doctor by their side. Astonishingly, Charlotte blossoms rather than fades; she’s now a healthy teen. A ravishing reminder of life’s mysteries—and miracles.

Petey Greene Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

It’s Friday afternoon. Students in various shades of preppy colors are pouring out of the university’s gates for the weekend. The patios in front of the restaurants are buzzing with cocktail chatter; there’s a long line at the movie theater. But I am climbing a rickety staircase in a two-story clapboard building just off Nassau Street. There, amid the disarray in a rabbit warren of small offices, I will talk to two university students who once a week leave their manicured campus to spend a day behind bars tutoring young men and women who are their age but who are held in a nearby prison.