Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakes
By Jessica J. Lee
She swims to explore the natural history of fresh water and to examine her own place in the world. Turning is a nature memoir chronicling Jessica J. Lee's year of swimming in the lakes around Berlin.
'The water slips over me like cool silk. The intimacy of touch uninhibited, rising around my legs, over my waist, up to my collarbone. When I throw back my head and relax, the lake runs into my ears. The sound of it is a muffled roar, the vibration of the body amplified by water, every sound felt as if in slow motion . . .' Summer swimming . . . but Jessica Lee - Canadian, Chinese and British - swims through all four seasons and especially loves the winter. 'I long for the ice. The sharp cut of freezing water on my feet. The immeasurable black of the lake at its coldest. Swimming then means cold, and pain, and elation.'
At the age of twenty-eight, Jessica Lee, who grew up in Canada and lived in London, finds herself in Berlin. Alone. Lonely, with lowered spirits thanks to some family history and a broken heart, she is there, ostensibly, to write a thesis. And though that is what she does daily, what increasingly occupies her is swimming. So she makes a decision that she believes will win her back her confidence and independence: she will swim fifty-two of the lakes around Berlin, no matter what the weather or season. She is aware that this particular landscape is not without its own ghosts and history.
This is the story of a beautiful obsession: of the thrill of a still, turquoise lake, of cracking the ice before submerging, of floating under blue skies, of tangled weeds and murkiness, of cool, fresh, spring swimming - of facing past fears of near drowning and of breaking free.
When she completes her year of swimming Jessica finds she has new strength, and she has also found friends and has gained some understanding of how the landscape both haunts and holds us.
This book is for everyone who loves swimming, who wishes they could push themselves beyond caution, who understands the deep pleasure of using their body's strength, who knows what it is to allow oneself to abandon all thought and float home to the surface.
Jessica J. Lee was born in Canada in 1986. She holds a doctorate in environmental history and aesthetics. Jessica lives in Berlin, where she continues her search for new lakes. This is her first book.
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- Publication date:
05 Apr 2018
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I loved this beautiful book. It's an attentive meditation on the pleasures and lessons of swimming in lakes, particularly in winter. Jessica Lee wears her bravery lightly and shares her knowledge with generosity. I recommend for outdoor swimmers or those who would like to be — Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun
A brilliant debut . . . there is clarity and pleasure in the swim's afterglow — Times Literary Supplement
A sublime, philosophical slipping into the deep. Her book, Turning, is filled with a wonderful melancholy as she swims through lakes laden with dark histories — Philip Hoare, New Statesman
Lee is intelligent and controlled, her writing clean and accurate . . . Turning is many things: a snapshot of Berlin seen through the prism of its lakes; the story of a broken and healing heart; a contemplation of identity; a coming-of-age story — Katharine Norbury, Observer
Bold and brave, she approaches her watery pilgrimage with a minimum amount of fuss. She doesn't, for instance, allow the ice on Brandenburg's lakes to get in her way, but takes a hammer to it . . . Lee writes like a siren, her silken prose blending with softly worn scholarship to enchanting effect. I challenge anyone to write more compellingly about Slavic suffixes or the formation of ice — Literary Review
The redemptive power of these wild landscapes, the changes in the water, and in Jessica, combine to create an inspiring story — Daily Telegraph
A lovely, poetic, sensuous and melancholy book — Irish Examiner