When people think of engrossing stories with fantastical and multi-layered plots they normally envisage novels but non-fiction can also sweep you far away from the shores you know. If you’ve ever wanted to get lost in a good (non-fiction) book, Moby Duck is non-fiction release that allows you to get as engrossed and lost in the tale as the author did in the researching of it.
Moby-Duck is, to use the very long subtitle on the book-jacket, the true story of 28,800 bath toys lost at sea and of the beachcombers, oceanographers, environmentalists, and fools, including the author, who went in search of them. In 1992, a container crate of “Friendly Floatees” bath toys washed off a container ship travelling from Hong Kong to the US, throwing more than 28 thousand bath toys into the ocean. Liberated from the confines of their damaged crates, the little bath toys bobbed to surface, transforming their patch of ocean into the world’s biggest bathtub – perfect for the bobbing rubber ducks.
And so they bobbed their way through the oceans currents before eventually some washed up on the beaches of the USA and Canada. Andso Donovan Hohn, author of Moby Duck, decided he would track them down and tell their story and be home, metaphorically, in time for tea and for when his heavily pregnant wife gave birth.
It seems like it should be very short book with a very long title but curiosity can make Ahabs of us all and Hohn’s quarry – the boggle-eyed yellow rubber duck escaped from the ships – is an elusive target. The story keeps changing. The Floatee toys weren’t made of rubber. Or ducks – only a quarter were the bright yellow bathtub toy so ubiquitous in our bathrooms (the rest were beavers, frogs and turtle). And yellow isn’t a normal colour for duck. And, in addition to wondering where all the bath toys ended up, Donovan finds out more about how they ended up in the container in the first place; where do all these bath toys get made, how are they shipped and what what happens when they end up somewhere other than on your bathroom shelf?
Like Captain Ahab, Donovan Hohn finds himself sailing the breadth of the seas in his search for answers; from exploring life as a hobbyist beachcomber to close quarters with passionate enviromentalists, from the decks of passenger ferries and research vessels to some of the most remote beaches in the world, from penetrating shipping conglomerates to Chinese toy factories. Moby-Duck journies accross the sea and through science and myth in its quest for answers and with every new answer, Hohn finds another question, and comes closer to understanding where his castaway quarry comes from and where it goes.
I’m a dabbler in other types of books but what brings me back repeatedly to non-fiction reading is – when done well – the sheer breadth of subjects it takes on and the passion that it devotes to it. Moby Duck is a great new offering in that tradition; a treasure hunt and an enviromental analysis, an account of one man’s obsession, his life as a new father and how the seas sailed by his rubber ducks – and the processes that brings them to our bathrooms – affects us all.