four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
By: 
Lynne Cox
user_rating: 
0

Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer

A-SwimmingAntarcticaSome mammals are land animals. Others are water animals. Cox, who grew up on the Southern California coast, lives among the latter. Unlike most other people, she's physiologically suited for cold-water swimming, making her "at one with the water." As a teenager, she broke all records, men and women's, for crossing the English Channel. She then conquered the Straight of Magellan, Cape of Good Hope, and, in an attempt to "create a thaw in the Cold War," the Bering Strait. In 2002, age 45 and dressed in only a bathing suit, cap, and goggles, she became the first person to swim a mile in the icy Antarctic Ocean, symbolizing all the joy, dangers, and achievements of her life.
Knopf. 336 pages. $24.95.

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Swimming to Antarctica is an engagingly gripping read, an often engrossing tale of an extreme, otherworldly existence. ... Paying jobs, romance, popular notions of beauty, none of it has ever mattered as much to Lynne Cox as the rush she gets when she climbs raggedly onto some godforsaken shore, having tricked nature and death again." Mary Gillespie

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"She has written a terrific memoir. ... Cox is proof that a swim can be a spiritual event for both a swimmer and those on shore, a way to bridge distance between people and nations, a human endurance struggle that surpasses borders." Susan Miron

Minneapolis Star Trib 4 of 5 Stars
"The singularity of her swims alone makes her book an instant classic of adventure writing, but it's Cox's ability to get inside her own head that makes it such a valuable work." Mark Athitakis

Rocky Mtn News 4 of 5 Stars
"Cox's story flows seamlessly to a Rocky-like crescendo as she shares details of her sheer will and daring. ... This is one spectacular book about one remarkable life." Verna Noel Jones

Boston Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"...inspiring sports memoir. ... In the light of today's rampant weight obsession, Cox's refreshingly sensible attitude toward her own body, as a friendly ally rather than a disappointing burden, is welcome as a cool dip on a muggy summer afternoon." Judith Wynn

SF Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"These moments when the swimmer becomes one with her environment are the most glowing passages in Cox's memoir, which occasionally bogs down in journeyman-like rather than fluid prose. ... Cox's tale is a brisk, invigorating plunge into the world and mind-set of sacrifice and dedication of an extreme athlete years ahead of her time." Eric Nash

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"After reading Cox's story, one finds it hard not to ask, 'Why so cold, why so wet?' But as someone who is clearly most comfortable in the water, she may just as easily respond, 'Why dry?'" Erica Sanders

Critical Summary

As this inspiring memoir makes clear, swimming is Cox's life. "Cox is not just in the sea," notes the Rocky Mountain News, "she is one with it." Cox offers intimate glimpses into her mind as she conquers icy (Antarctic) or rat-strewn (Nile) waters, her doubts, joys, and observations of unfamiliar surroundings. It's a compelling narrative, but critics disagree on a few points. Is her writing poetic or reportorial? Does she offer a complete or one-sided picture of her life? Where's the larger historical perspective? Quibbles aside, Cox successfully and joyfully captures the mental, physical, and political (think: America, Russia, Bering Strait) battles she overcomes each time she jumps into new waters. "As far as I knew," she writes, "I would only be here once, and I wanted to live as much as I could."