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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

Keto Diet Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Because it is pouring rain, the six men who have been repairing our roof all morning have come inside to have their lunch at our kitchen table. They tell me that their families are originally from Pettoranello del Molise, in the mountains of Italy. There are three young men in their 20s,

two in their 40s, and the foreman, Mario, who is 50-ish. All are on the heavy side. They pull off their caps and wipe sweat from their foreheads. Then they unwrap the food that they have brought from home.

A plastic tray full of baked cauliFower, overFowing with melted cheese, a couple of sticks of butter, a bottle of coconut oil, a bowl of tomatoes, and chopped roast beef. When an enormous slab of bacon is extracted from aluminum foil, a hurrah arises. Time to attack!

Everyone piles bacon on his plate. The sliced butter is smeared over the cauliFower, which is already dripping with cheese and fat. Who needs my tea? They already have thermos jugs steaming with hot coffee spiked with coconut oil. Delicious! they all say. This is the tastiest diet we have ever followed!

Sleeping Through The Night Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

“And does your baby already sleep through the night?”

I found that one of the most irritating questions I heard

during the time that we had three children under the age of

four. Hello, of course not! All three were awake at every turn.

The solution came from my midwife, who found us

exhausted after the umpteenth time with our eldest. She

shook her head and said: Why don’t you just take him to bed

with you?

Recommendation Letters Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

‘As a natural leader, he always takes the lead and knows how to motivate others ... Curious and creative, he takes the initiative to go off the beaten path. He loves intellectual challenges, which cannot be complex enough for him. His analytical qualities and scientific interests are beyond his years. In addition, he has a strong empathic capacity.”

That’s a fragment from a letter of recommendation written for the son a friend of ours for admission to a very selective private school. Mind you, this is for kindergarten. The boy was five. His intellectual achievements so far consist of stacking blocks. And what toddler does not go off the beaten path, especially at the table with a plate of pasta in front of him or her? Six letters were needed when applying to this school, which the parents had set their sights on. Once he was admitted, they hoped, he would surely be on the fast track to a top-notch high school, then on an Ivy League university.

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.