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3.70  ·  Rating details ·  235 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Through the heat of summer to the frozen depths of winter, Lee traces her journey swimming through 52 lakes in a single year, swimming through fear and heartbreak to find her place in the world

The water slips over me like cool silk. The intimacy of touch uninhibited, rising around my legs, over my waist, my breasts, up to my collarbone. When I throw back my head and relax,
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 4th 2017 by Virago
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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This beautifully reflective personal story arose from Lee’s resolution, when she was 28 and in Berlin on a research placement for her dissertation in environmental history, to swim in 52 local lakes – a year’s worth – no matter the weather. At the time she blogged about her “52 Lakes Project” for Slow Travel Berlin, and kept friends and family up to date through social media as well. Her focus would be on the former East German region of Brandenburg, which has Berlin at its center and was first ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
At the end of her twenties, Lee finds herself in the city of Berlin. Ostensibly there to write a thesis she has left behind a home, family and quite a lot of heartache in Canada. In a city of 3.7 million people, she is all alone. The thesis plods along, but what motivates her to get up in the mornings is taking a swim in one of the lakes that surround the city. Even though she is swimming solo, there is something reassuring about swimming in the cool dark lakes that help ebb away her inner pain. ...more
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: june-2019
I picked up Canadian author Jessica J. Lee'sdebut work,Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakesduring a lovely warm summer's day, and it turned out to be the perfect choice. Since very much enjoying Amy Liptrot'sThe Outrun, which is partially a memoir of outdoor swimming, I have been keen to pick up more memoirs along the same theme. TheTimes Literary SupplementcallsTurning'a brilliant debut', and the New Statesmannotes that it is 'filled with a wonderful melancholy as she swims through ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir

There seems to be a trend in 'swimming memoirs' at the moment, some of which I've enjoyed a lot more than others.

In Turning Jessica Lee writes about her exploration of, and swimming in, the various man made and natural lakes surrounding Berlin, a city she is currently living and working in. She sets herself a challenge to swim in 52 lakes, all year round.

Lee has a British father and a Chinese mother but was brought up in Canada. However, she seems to struggle to settle anywhere - a short
This was an intriguing read - as I love outdoor swimming myself I enjoyed diving into this book. And I found Jessica J. Lee`s writing to be as beautiful as nature itself. I could almost taste, see, smell and feel every word: meteors, moods, the scent of wood smoke, fragments of ice, patches of moss, heath, tiny blue dragonflies, asphalt roads turning into sand, verdancy, the mirror glass of the lake, cold winds, fragments of pine cones drying in the sun, storm clouds. ...more
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, first-reads
In this memoir, Jessica Lee recounts the time she spent living in Berlin while working on her doctoral thesis in environmental history. During this time, she also set herself the challenge of swimming in 52 lakes over the course of a year. This challenge is the focus of the book as Ms. Lee takes the reader along on a number of her swims. While doing so, she also writes about the German culture and people, shares bits of local history, and vividly describes the settings of her swims.

This was a
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
enjoyed this so much

postgraduate environmental historian, while completing studies n Berlin, commits to swimming in 52 lakes over the course of a year

blends so many details, personal, relationships, friendships, setbacks, struggles, historical, geological, environmental
All briefly, tantalising glimpses and flashes, like the lakes seen through the forest trees as she cycles to another swim.
these sidebars tend to occupy thoughts while travelling to or from a lake
and are replaced as she enters the
This is a gorgeously written book with some interesting local insights, and the idea of a memoir combining several particular elements made me feel inspired. An autumn of reading a chapter or two before going to sleep was very comforting. However, by the time I got to the last page, I had been left a little cold — and not just because of all the descriptions of winter swimming.

The events in the author's past didn't seem so remarkable that they should form the thematic spine of a book that
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
A passionate wild swimmer, currently situated in berlin, away from home as I know it, this book spoke to me on so many levels. The language is beautiful, first of all. I couldn’t even imagine it was possible to write an entire non-fiction, centred mainly around the sensation of lakes, and swimming in them. The multi faceted depiction of loneliness, both the sad and the serene kind, tells a story of freedom and rootlessness that any wandering person can relate to. What I would have wished from ...more
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: swimming
Lovely and lyrical, at times profound, and at times just gorgeous nature writing. My only objection is that the chapters get repetitive without added depth in the second half of the book, but still a worthy addition to the swimming literature along the lines of Roger Deakin and more recent swimming memoirs, such as Jenny Landreth's Swell and Alexandra Heminsley's Leap In.
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars
Trevor Pearson
Received a copy of Turning by Jessica J. Lee through the GoodReads First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review

"The first entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for the word 'lake' doesn't refer to lakes as we know them. Instead, 'lake', from Old English, means 'an offering, sacrifice; also a gift'. This origin of the word has nothing to do with water, but I find myself thinking about it sometimes, about the ways lakes hold themselves open to the world. Broad plates beneath
Jen Kayna (Habitat for Happiness)
This, unfortunately, was not the book for me. I picked it up because the true story of someone swimming through lakes year round sounded super interesting. Unfortunately, it wasn't what I was expecting at all. I thought the author would be attempting to swim across entire lakes and that there would be a lot of focus on the actual process of swimming, but instead she doesn't actually swim across them she just visits many different lakes but doesn't spend much time in the water and she also goes ...more
May 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before reading this book I read a review of it that said that the author has no personal growth from the start to the end. I think it was meant negatively, but I loved that. I haven't read a ton of these kind of one year memoirs but of the ones I've read it feels like there's an expectation (and often some shoehorning to make it happen in the writing) that the writer will change and grow and I don't think that always reflects real life.

I've now read it and I'm not sure how I feel. I think I
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A charming, well-researched meditation on wild swimming and life in general. Although this is a memoir written with something of an academic slant, it has a great deal of heart and self-belief. I enjoyed the combination of exploring a new city/region; the scientific descriptions of lake biology; the snapshots of life events; and of course the descriptions of entering a new lake for the first time. Less a guide book to the lakes of Berlin, this is more a meditation on what it truly feels like to ...more
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a weak 4 star review - I pondered betweeen 3 and 4 stars for a while, but the writing is definitely quite special, and some of the contents are beautifully presented. For someone who has lived in Berlin, it is particularly interesting to follow the author's year swimming the lakes around Berlin, but I would have appreciated some better maps. Why are some lakes pointed out carefully, others not at all? Two more pages of maps would have made a big difference.

Some of the facts do get a bit
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book started out very interesting, a mixture of poetical and historical meanings for the different villages and places in Berlin and around its borders paired with the love for nature and memories of her past dwindled together in a city, she has chosen as a new home. But then, the story turned out to be too repetitive for me.

The flashbacks to her childhood, her fears, her failed marriage and relationships where only a few emotional glimpses, overlapped by too much historical and
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The “turning” of the title refers to the way the water within the lakes changes with the seasons. “In spring, the winter ice melts, and the warm and cold of the lake intermingle. In summer … a green froth of algae caps the surface … and when it cools in autumn, the green disappears. The leaves flash red and gold. And the water ‘turns’.”

Jessica J Lee in this book presents snapshots of her life in Berlin and her swimming in 52 lakes during the four seasons.

She explores ideas about life, love,
Nadine Graf
Jul 18, 2018 rated it liked it
As an affiliate of Brandenburg with its beautiful landscape and glorious lakes, I enjoyed reading this book. The scientific background information is quite useful if you want to learn how the landscape surrounding Berlin came into existence. I frequently venture outside of Berlin to seek joy and fulfillment through nature. In that respect I have something in common with the author. However, while reading Lee‘s book I became ever so bored by her dwelling on hypersensitivities. This is another ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is about Jessica J. Lee herself, a young Canadian researcher who spends an extended stay in Berlin while she completes her dissertation. As a child, she was terrified of swimming in lakes. Following a failed marriage and depression, she decides to swim in a different lake each week for a year, hoping for a therapeutic effect. Luckily, Berlin and its surroundings have plenty of lakes, so off she goes. "Turning" chronicles her swims and the events of her life during that year. It's an ...more
Pauline Lee
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Open. Honest. Raw emotion. Jessica J. Lee’s first book demonstrates a mix of all her talents. She mixes and blends smoothly her knowledge of the environment of lakes, her knowledge of the history of Berlin and surrounding area together with her personal vulnerability in the trials she has dealt with in her young life. I felt like I was with her, along side her during her journey. She touches our emotions on many levels, making you want to wrap her up in your arms and protect her, let her cry on ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I took my time with this one, reading a chapter every couple of nights and really thought it was a beautiful read. I'd recommend it absolutely for anyone who has a personal connection with Berlin and/or Brandenburg, as there is loads of interesting historical information sprinkled in. Nature lovers would get a kick out of it, as well. It really brought my mind and imagination to the lakes of Brandenburg which are so elegantly described by Lee, as well as the the memories and feelings one can ...more
Doha Koma
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
In her memoir, Jessica Lee brilliantly captured what it's like to swim in open lakes. Every terrifying thought you have, the monsters laying in the deep, the tentacles that will pull you down and the peaceful and intoxicating feeling of floating alone with not one care in the world.
But as beautifully written as it is, the book felt repetitive.
After reading about her first few trips you feel there is nothing new to add there. She tried to include some glimpses of her past, which made the book
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book , subtitled A Year in the Water, is about a young woman who grew up here in London Ontario, and moves to Berlin. It's so funny what you can learn from a book - I never knew that Germany had so many lakes, and this book is a love letter to the beaches around Berlin. As she travels from lake to lake, swimming through the seasons, cracking ice in the winter and braving crowds in the summer, she writes about her past, her fears, and the unique beauty and history of each area. I would now ...more
Feb 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, swimming
With swimming memoirs, you never know what you’re going to get.

I did not expect the foray into German literature I got here nor the one into the history of Berlin and the surrounding area. But I enjoyed the view from the outside in.

Absolutely charmed to learn that one translation of Fontane‘s „Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg“ is „Rambles in Brandenburg“.

Also, life goal solidified: swim in Hampstead Heath Ladies‘ Pond.

I had a bit of trouble getting into this, but I don’t really know why
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jessica J. Lee's memoir made me feel like I was vacationing in Berlin. I am grateful she resisted "cinematizing" her life, not forcing narrative arcs where there were none, and not exaggerating her sense of belonging in Berlin even while she acknowledged the almost spiritual pull of the city. She painstakingly recorded her own linguistic ignorance and difficulties with the language barrier, an aspect of living abroad that most people are eager to ignore.

Plus, I loved her descriptions of clear,
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Enjoyable read as the author recounts a somewhat reflective period in her life as she grapples with her past and the consequences of her life decisions. To find her reflective path she chooses to swim in numerous lakes in her current abode of Germany.
A little self-pitying and somewhat repetitive - nevertheless the nature and geographical descriptions are well done.
I hope that her journey continues.
Christina’s Word
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this book a moving meditation on swimming while at the same time an exploration of her childhood memories and earlier life. It reminded me of H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. Writing about one thing while exploring another. The writing is beautiful, the mind as clear as some of the lakes she swims, the intellect sharp and crisp as the ice she sometimes dives beneath.
Sarah Boon
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book covers a bit of everything: travelogue, environmental history, memoir, personal reckoning. Stitching it all together is Lee's account of wild swimming in the lakes surrounding Berlin. Wonderfully written, compelling. I read it in a single sitting.
Feb 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
An open water swimming read that was very repetitive, as the author undertook a year long journey to swim in 52 of Brandenburg's lakes, but which had a gentle rhythm and had me Google searching places and, ultimately, flights. Who knew the countryside surrounding Berlin was such a ows paradise?
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“I think of what the lakes meant to me then and what they mean to me now. In the middle of the lake, I'm completely present. I'm no longer afraid to be alone. I've conditioned myself to the lake, to the cold, to the pain of it. I can hold it. I've made it mine.” 1 likes
“But there’s a kind of offering in the generosity of water holding you afloat. In the way water holds feeling, how the body is most alive submerged and enveloped, there is the fullness of grace given freely.” 1 likes
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