English!

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
Sign up to receive occasional updates from Pia about her books, articles, and appearances.

Latest Articles, Columns, Short Stories

Drivers License Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Our daughter celebrated her seventeen birthday this year by getting her driving license. This was not left to chance. She made the appointment for her test months in advance, at 8 a.m. sharp. The exam itself was an afterthought — a five-minute spin in a parking lot, parallel parking, turn into the highway, and finish. Soon she was home, holding her glittering license, a free ticket to a life of freedom.

“I’m going out for a little bit,” she promptly announced. She stepped into the car, pulled down her mirrored sunglasses, opened the windows, tuned up the radio, and disappeared into the wide, wide world.

Bjmiller Elianejpg
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

The year is 1990. The time is 4 a.m. The place: Princeton. I am jolted awake by ambulances with sirens screaming, police cars, a trauma helicopter chop-chopping overhead. I live near the train station. I peer through the window at a cluster of flashing lights converging in the snowy night.

Not until the next day did I find out what had happened. A group of college sophomores, after partying all night, decided to fool around. They climbed on top of the little train, the Dinky, which shuttles people into Princeton from main line, about five minutes from campus. The student who was first to get on top of the train was wearing a metal watch on his left wrist. Eleven thousand volts of electric current surged through the watch into his body. Eleven thousand volts! That number I never forgot. Now he was dying.

Golden Apples Of The Sun Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

De zomer waarvan ik geen afscheid wilde nemen, bleef nog lang dralen. Augustus gaf ongemerkt het stokje door aan september. September liet zich dit jaar niet kennen en overtrof augustus in aantal warme dagen. We zwommen nog steeds in de rivier. Zeker, de dagen werden korter, mijn schaduw viel langer over het tuinpad. De ochtenden werdenkiller, maar overdag niets dan uitbundigheid.

Screen Shot 2017 10 14 At 8 33 49 Am

When your daughter was just two weeks old, she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. You rejected all suggestions of any treatment, of which the most common was chemotherapy, and instead made the decision to wait and see. Was this approach consistent with your personality up until that point or did you surprise yourself?

I did surprise myself, especially because I was so certain about what to do. There was no doubt in my mind, no negotiating, no second thoughts. I just knew I had to have her home with me. I had learned to trust my intuition when I became a mother, though. Like all new mothers, I was bombarded with rules: when to wean your child, where and how to sleep, when to introduce food, etc. I had decided to follow my instincts regarding my kids. But then I often discussed those decisions and doubts with friends. This was different.

Screen Shot 2017 10 02 At 2 00 12 Pm

Saving Charlotte, by Pia de Jong, translated from the Dutch by Pia de Jong and Landon Y. Jones (Norton). This compelling memoir by a Dutch novelist begins in 2000, when her daughter is born with congenital myeloid leukemia, a rare disease with a low rate of survival. De Jong and her husband decide against chemotherapy, which is likely to be both devastating and ineffective. “Parents always want to do everything for their children,” an incredulous oncologist protests. “We do nothing,” de Jong responds. “That can be a lot.” De Jong movingly describes the work of nursing her daughter to health, and sketches the Amsterdam neighborhood—the brothel next door, the local crank, the kind old man who lives across the canal—that seems to cocoon the struggling family.