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Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakes

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3.75  ·  Rating details ·  296 ratings  ·  61 reviews
At the age of 28, Jessica Lee--Canadian, Chinese, and British--finds herself in Berlin. Alone. Lonely, with lowered spirits thanks to some family history and a broken heart, she is ostensibly there to write a thesis. And although 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 confiden ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 5th 2018 by Virago (first published May 4th 2017)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Rebecca
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
Paul
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
Kirsty
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: june-2019
I picked up Canadian author Jessica J. Lee's debut work, Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakes during a lovely warm summer's day, and it turned out to be the perfect choice.  Since very much enjoying Amy Liptrot's The Outrun, which is partially a memoir of outdoor swimming, I have been keen to pick up more memoirs along the same theme.  The Times Literary Supplement calls Turning 'a brilliant debut', and the New Statesman notes that it is 'filled with a wonderful melancholy as she swims ...more
Penny
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
3.5

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 live
...more
SarahJaneSmith
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
Taylor
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 to
...more
Andy
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
...more
Jessie (Zombie_likes_cake)
So, this is going to be one of those reviews where I am not quite sure I will be able to communicate how much I loved it, or why I loved, or that it is an amazing book but I think not everyone will appreciate it on the same level. That kind of book, and likely that kind of review.

Hinted at in this introduction, I believe this book resonated so strongly with me because it hits some personal reading preferences pretty well but in addition also contains some to me personally relevant themes and a s
...more
Rosamund
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 ultima
...more
Karin.gry
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 th ...more
Asya
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Frede
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
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 i ...more
Nadine Graf
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 cas ...more
Emily
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 stil
...more
Buechersammler
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
✨ ”I’ve been living with this amorphous ball in my stomach, some unidentifiable and unspecific longing for familiarity. Homesickness, maybe, but I’m no longer quite sure what it is that I miss or where home is.”✨

I was drawn to this autobiographical book because the longing for freedom, the feeling of rootlessness, and the emotional struggles reminded me so much of my own life choices and experiences. With the conscious intention to leave her old life behind, Lee moved to Berlin, where she worke
...more
Wendy Greenberg
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I had to stop and consider my feelings, about this book, for some time before they coalesced.

Although beautifully constructed and written, this is not a quick read. It is an interesting nod to a memoir, memoir without the trimmings. We gather only the life journey snippets we need to explain the moment. That is the thing, the moment. We don't have a huge landscape but we have the intensity of short snatches. The focus of swimming year-round the known and hidden lakes around Berlin (Brandenburg)
...more
Paul
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
O
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Mercurycode
This was a solid read. I was really interested in this unusual story, and the lake project. However, I felt like the book could have been a little more. There's only so much you can describe about sumberging yourself into water 52 times, and although there certainly was a mix of swimming and personal growth, I still think the balance was a little off. I saw glimpses of fantastic poetic writing, but scattered rather scarcely throughout the pages.

Especially with the chapters that aimed to tell a
...more
Liisa
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
Turning is what it sets out to be: Jessica J. Lee’s experience of swimming in 52 lakes surrounding Berlin, regardless of the season, combined with personal memories and reflection as well as Lee’s expertise – environmental history. But I found the book way too long and meandering. For me the details of the swimming and the history of the landscape are fascinating, unlike Lee’s personal journey. If that side had been edited more, maybe following the narrative would have been less confusing and mo ...more
Ammar
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, dea
...more
Pauline Lee
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Bettina
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 in ...more
Scarlet Guy
- I don’t like how she just switches with no warning to different swims, it’s quite confusing
- Who is Jacob???
- Kind of a philosophical approach to swimming
- A couple small grammatical errors
- Sometimes it almost sounds like she doesn’t wanna be in germany
- She’s freaked out by water in the same way I am
- Her relationship with her dad is similar to mine
- This book is about her failed marriage with swimming in the background
- Kinda has a bad attitude about interacting with others
- She’s a huge m
...more
Pooja
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this memoir reminded me of a childhood favourite, Ruskin Bond. While he wrote of the crisp mountain air, she writes about the temperamental Berlin lakes. I love Jessica's honesty about the messy parts of her life- the strong associations she makes with every part of her journey - from packing the boiled eggs to stepping out of the lake and making small talk- It's all so deliberate and raw. The descriptions are vivid and at such a molecular level, if that makes sense? I do wish it was a b ...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 mo
...more
Cynthia
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 com ...more
Alena
Feb 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 th
...more
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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.” 2 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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