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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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.”

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.