STARRED REVIEW
July 2017

A mother always knows

By Pia de Jong

In 2000, Pia de Jong and her husband, Robbert Dijkgraaf, eagerly welcomed their third child, a daughter named Charlotte. Five years earlier, the couple had moved into a 17th-century brick canal house in Amsterdam. A sign above the door gave the construction date: 1632.

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In 2000, Pia de Jong and her husband, Robbert Dijkgraaf, eagerly welcomed their third child, a daughter named Charlotte. Five years earlier, the couple had moved into a 17th-century brick canal house in Amsterdam. A sign above the door gave the construction date: 1632.

De Jong felt welcomed by the house—and the colorful cast of characters in the neighborhood: There’s a young, blonde prostitute doing business in the alley who can guess that de Jong is pregnant just by looking at her; Mackie, an angry man who watches over not only his aging mother, but the entire neighborhood; and across the canal is Rutger, an old, sick man who tells de Jong, “That house belongs to you. It was waiting all these years for you to move in. I should know. I’ve lived across from it all my life.”

When newborn Charlotte arrives, she is embraced by her parents and two older brothers, as well as by this odd, eccentric community. But it is clear from the first that something is wrong. The midwife finds an unusual bump on the baby’s skin that when touched turns blue. Charlotte has congenital myeloid leukemia. Informed that the prognosis is poor, de Jong and her husband, with the support of their compassionate oncologist, choose to actively watch and wait rather than subject Charlotte to potentially deadly chemotherapy.

With a novelist’s sense of story and characters, de Jong paints a vivid picture of Charlotte’s first year. Even when we don’t see the neighbors, we feel their concern cradling the family, and especially this small, brave baby, who keeps fighting—and eventually goes into remission.

Several cases of spontaneous remission have occurred, and “watchful waiting” is now a standard protocol for this type of leukemia. The subject of this inspiring, heartfelt memoir is now a healthy teenager living with her family in Princeton, New Jersey.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Saving Charlotte

Saving Charlotte

By Pia de Jong
Norton
ISBN 9780393609158

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