This has 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. 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.
'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, 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.