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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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.

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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.