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Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakes

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  401 ratings  ·  80 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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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
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
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
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 live
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travelwriting
The perfect Berlin book for nature lovers & urban escapers.
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
There was a lot to love here - some beautiful writing, I had lots of marked-up lines, and some really meaningful observations that could be surprising in their depth. But it gets repetitive and although some descriptions were fantastic and immersive, others didn’t give me a sense of the location at all, including some I’ve been to. The memoir portions from her past pales in comparison to the writing about landscapes and local history, which I feel bad saying but it just didn’t connect to the top ...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 to
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
Jul 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Aug 20, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book bit by bit over several months--not my usual reading style--so it simultaneously felt like an old friend and a slog. The action of the story, Lee prepping for, traveling to, and swimming in and observing 52 lakes, obviously got redundant. But Lee's writing is poetic and melancholic, and her trips to the lakes were interspersed with reflections on her life. We learn about her past marriage, her multicultural family, her struggles, her longing. I sometimes felt disoriented and apa ...more
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. ...more
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
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
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
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
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,
May 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Lianne Burwell
Apr 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I read this after reading her first memoir (Two Trees Make a Forest) ahead of Canada Reads this year, and enjoyed it so much that I promptly picked up this one.

Like Two Trees, this is a mix of present, past, history, and ecology. Two Trees was about Taiwan, while this one is Berlin, dipping into her childhood, her parent's divorce, her own divorce, and a relationship that fell apart. All of these combine into a depression that she decided to get out of by swimming in 52 different lakes around Be
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
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)
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
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
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
Mrunal Nargunde
This is a nonfiction book (memoir) based on the Chinese-Canadian author who went swimming in 100 German lakes in 4 different seasons when she was hit by a personal crisis. The book chronicles the German landscapes around fresh water lakes and her enjoyment of swimming in clear waterbodies. If you love swimming & pages over pages describing emerald/aquamarine/deep blue water bodies this book is for you. On the up side, it does feel like a meditative approach to self-soothe through swimming but ca ...more
Rebecca Olive
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovely book that has a calmness in the writing. It’s one of those books where ‘nothing changes but everything shifts’, as a friend once described such writing to me.

Like so many swimming memoirs, this one explores how the author used swimming to heal heartbreak or depression/anxiety, finding comfort in a commitment to water and landscapes.

There is nothing astounding in this book, and it took me ages to read, but I enjoyed it very much. The writing, like all swimming memoirs, is full of
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
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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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