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
Jessica J. Lee 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, who grew up in Canada and lived in England, 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 the body's strength, who knows what it is to abandon all thought and float home to the surface.
JESSICA J. LEE is a Canadian with a doctorate in environmental history and aesthetics. She lives in Berlin, where she continues her search for new lakes. Turning is her first book. The author lives in Berlin.
"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. Perhaps most of all it is a journey through the senses. In recording her experience Lee explores ideas about memory, and examines the way she experiences and retains physical and emotional trauma. She discovers that she, and we, might erase or change our personal ghosts and recollections by simply overwriting them, layering them with new and different sensations, including different kinds of pain, until she, like the lakes she has come to know so well, has fully succeeded in turning." –The Guardian
"Her clear, calm writing encompasses the truth and terror of open-water swimming: the conjunction of human and natural history that it represents as we swimmers hang there in the water, caught between elements, between our land-bound lives stationed in front of liminal screens and the infinite deep that lies beyond." –The New Statesman
"[T]here’s a feeling that lingers after long days spent in water, feet on land but floating still, some cranial trick that leaves your body sensing an imaginary buoyance, equilibrium rocking in a lull one beat short of nausea while drifting off to sleep. Lee’s book is something kind of like that: wafting sweetly even through the weighty bits, her musings as steady and tender in sadness as learned peace. Too intimate to be comfortable, but told with a piercing vulnerability so affecting you wind up feeling close to Lee anyway, side-by-side and stroke-by-stroke, solidarity in life and lake and existential slog, 52 times over, together better for it." –The National Post
“Jessica J. Lee’s first book is lyrical and profound, told . . . in stunning prose and with poetic flare; it’s poignant and moving and passionate . . . a lexeme masterpiece” –The National Post
“A deeply moving meditation on solitude, yearning, loss and love. This lake of a book submerged and enveloped me. It is a truly beautiful offering.” –Kyo Maclear, author of Birds Art Life
“Lee’s language is sharp as ice on a frozen lake. It’s astounding, how, to explore her past and her own shifting identity, she uses the land as a metaphor, but tempers it with a view of yearning, the sight of someone once-removed, who can never really go back home again. Insightful, unconventional, moving, and inspiring, I think this book will appeal to anyone who has ever struggled across the darkness trying to find the light.” –Yasuko Thanh, author of Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains
"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 bestselling The Outrun
"Swimming tempers solitude in Lee's brilliant debut, Turning." –Times Literary Supplement
“Her prose is elegant and sharp … it’s a pleasure to accompany Lee on this journey.” –Image
“Lee is an elegant writer; precise in her description, thoughtful in her observation, and most of all interested in the world that surrounds her . . . . Jessica J. Lee’s is a trip to the lake well worth taking, inspiring even this reluctant swimmer to reach for his swimming shorts.” –Elsewhere Journal
"[Lee's] beautifully written memoir combines personal memories with geographic and historical observations that should resonate even for staunch landlubbers." –Metro News
“her lyrical debut was enough to sell me on the sport, at least, and maybe mortality as well, water making good metaphor for both: calm in some times, violent in others, but constant, at least, lapping over and wrapping you entirely; inescapable, if nothing else.” –The Montreal Gazette