In a bid to raise environmental awareness, Hughes recalls swimming the length of the Danube River in her inspirational, if occasionally repetitive, debut.
Rushing water, the freezing cold, pollution and politics: These are but some of the obstacles that stood between the author and her destination. Starting in Germany at the source of the Danube, the long-distance swimmer and mother of four from Tennessee set out to swim 2,860 kilometers, through nine countries, to finish at the Black Sea in Romania. The author’s support partner was her sullen teenage daughter, Kelsey, who accompanied her in a kayak. In this conventionally linear memoir, the title of each chapter features the date, location and distance covered. From the opening, the author captures the exhilaration and fear of wild swimming. She offers her mantras, the psychological and physical rhythms she adopted to push herself onward: “Breathe, one, two, three….Fear is nothing compared to what it feels like to quit.” The author also presents a deep understanding of the river itself, detailing its many “strudels”: perilous whirlpools that can suck in a swimmer. At other points, the river became dangerously polluted, and Hughes needed to keep her mouth closed, only taking quick breaths. Her time spent out of the water provided fascinating cultural insights, too. She describes the food and local hospitality at each stop-off point and also offers amusing trivia. For instance, in Bulgaria, shaking the head means “yes,” and nodding the head means “no.” This is by no means a comprehensive travel guide—“When my face is in the water, there is little difference between the Danube River and a river in the United States”—yet as the journey progresses, the changing physical and political landscapes are well-portrayed. For some readers, a book that deals so closely with the mechanics of long-distance swimming may prove monotonous; repetition is, however, something of a necessity when similar dangers are met on a daily basis. The crisp, sincere writing style occasionally gives way to remarkable emotion in this lucid story of endurance.
A notable window onto the unique mindset of an athlete set on pushing her body to the limit.