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.

More about Saving Charlotte

Latest Articles & Columns

Is January the Cruelest Month?

Wall Street Journal, 16 January 2020

Eliot And Emily Photo

Is January the Cruelest Month?

Wall Street Journal, 16 January 2020

You could call it a tempest in a teapot, but T.S. Eliot would have nothing of American tea parties. In a letter he wrote to his confidante and muse, Emily Hale, on Oct. 24, 1948, Eliot dismissed them as places where “you spend most of your time being introduced to people whose names you do not catch.”

This and other descriptive idiosyncrasies of Eliot’s are now yours to discover. After more than 60 years sealed behind copper bands and padlocks, the 1,131 letters Eliot wrote Hale between 1930 and 1957 were finally opened to the public earlier this month. They provide an intimate glimpse at the poet’s cloistered inner life.

We descended three floors into the stony catacombs beneath Princeton University’s Firestone Library to be among the first to read these letters, still in pristine condition, as Hale left them.

im-143196?width=620&size=1.5An envelope T.S. Eliot addressed to Emily Hale. Photo: Ashley Gamarello/Princeton University Library

The letters attest to Eliot’s love for the Boston-born drama teacher he first met while in graduate school, in 1912. “You have made me . . . happier than I have ever been in my life,” he wrote in 1930. Their romance lasted most of Eliot’s life—he died in 1965 at 76—and survived his unhappy first marriage.

What their love did not survive was Hale’s decision, which Eliot vehemently opposed, to give his letters to Princeton—even with the condition they not be opened until 50 years after both of their deaths. (Hale died in 1969.)

What strikes you in leafing through the letters is less Eliot’s passion for Hale than his observations on quotidian topics. You see J. Alfred Prufrock’s complaint and regret.

In 1948 Eliot accepted a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, “or whatever they call it,” in Princeton, N.J. He wondered about meeting “atom-bomb” scientists like Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer. He imagined them to be “rather sinister, and no doubt charming and gentle souls.” In the fall of 1948 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but fretted that he had to take the Queen Mary across the Atlantic to attend the ceremony, “apparently an important matter for them.”

Nineteen forty-eight was a presidential election year, and his observations have a familiar ring. Eliot pronounced candidates Harry S. Truman and Thomas Dewey “clownish.” He wasn’t much happier in 1956, as the Suez Crisis roiled international relations: “I have never been so alarmed, disturbed, depressed about world affairs, and the future of Britain, as I am now. I have a low opinion of both the British and American governments.”

Eliot confessed to Hale one feeling, though, that many of us can recognize: “I have been struggling all my life with the problem of putting things into words.”

Ms. de Jong is a novelist and author of “Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition.” Mr. Jones is author of “Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation.”

Bitesand Barks Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

The problem is becoming more painful every day. I have a bad sense of direction, I am constantly guilty of missing turns, getting off on the wrong floor, and I always struggle to find my house keys. Are they lying on the bedside table, in the kitchen drawer, or in my handbag? And where is that handbag again?

My four-legged housemates, on the other hand, know exactly where they can and cannot go, keep track of their location, and sashay in and out of the house without any guidance from me. Here is the big difference: they are golden retrievers, and I am not. Fitbark-Elaine.jpg

Learning American Traditions Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Traditions with which you did not grow up lack a certain nostalgic magic. So I manage not to get overly excited at the annual Memorial Day barbecue on our block after the war veterans’ parade. Or by the fusillades of lethal fireworks in our backyard on Independence Day. Never mind crowding onto a sofa to share pigs in a blanket with my neighbors while watching the Super Bowl. Alas, I even have few warm and fuzzy family feelings about pouring thick gravy over the Thanksgiving turkey. You simply cannot long for something that you did not experience when you were growing up in Europe.

Dress Code Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Cracking Social Codes

US 1 Newspaper, July 19, 2019

Posted in: US 1 Newspaper

Europeans who come to the United States often think they have a special responsibility to stand up for the lofty values of the Old World, the center of civilization, amid the cultural wastelands of America. Here everyone walks in T-shirts and shorts, chews gum all day, eats only cheeseburgers and doesn’t know how to properly handle a knife and fork — right?

Think again. In the U.S. today, it is precisely my fellow Dutchman who runs the risk of coming across as a boorish farmer. Back in the 1960s, the Dutch and other nations figured out that all social rules are arbitrary and optional. In Holland, personal freedom is happiness. Anything goes. Do it your way.

Not so in American social life, though, where rules are still rules. They are often unspoken, but they are rigorously observed, which creates a certain social insecurity. It’s as if the proper and conformist 1950s have returned. So beware.

Rowena 130519 Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Rowena Xiaoqing He is a Chinese historian and guest researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study. I meet the small, modest woman over lunch. “I have a lot on my mind,” she says, eating her salad. “I have to prepare for the coming weeks, the many lectures I give throughout the country.”

For Rowena, who chooses her words carefully, everything is about June 4. That very day, 30 years ago, student protests in Tiananmen Square were forcefully suppressed by the government, a horror many of us witnessed live on television. Since then Rowena’s goal has been to not let the world forget what happened. In the beginning, when she started out as a researcher, she kept a low profile. But in 2014 she became known to a wider audience with her acclaimed book, Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China. The book was named one of the top five China books of 2014 by the Asia Society’s China File.

Visiting Mother Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

I don’t have to get ready to visit my mother. She never likes it when I put anything on my face. “You are beautiful as you are,” she always says. I take an early train. I know she’s already waiting for me, sitting at her window.

When I take her in my arms, I feel her bones through the baggy sweater. She has been sick, lost pounds. My mother has become a birdie. A little bird with gray feathers on her head.

“Finally,” she says, “you are finally here.”