Searching: When Songbirds Ceased to Sing

Jean Quaal

Publisher: Readers Magnet Pages: 138 Price: (paperback) $9.49 ISBN: 9798890911308 Reviewed: March, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

In Jean Quaal’s heartbreaking memoir, she recounts the story of her pilot husband’s disappearance, the ensuing emotional pain it wrought, and more.

On the morning of Oct. 28, 1974, Quaal’s husband Roger Hlavka, along with his brother-in-law, Dewey Rathke, took off in a small, twin-engine plane from Sturgis, South Dakota, en route to Gallup, New Mexico. They were supposed to return the same day, but then he and everyone onboard vanished.

For nearly a year, Roger’s fate remained a mystery despite exhaustive searches by authorities across multiple states. At one point, Quaal even turned to a psychic. She writes of the dread of those first hours after he failed to return and of trying to stay strong for her children while she battled her own private anguish as hours turned into months. “Not knowing destroys the spirit, leaves little room for joy and happiness,” she writes.

Quaal’s dramatic story has great potential as she chronicles that year before the plane’s wreckage was found in the Colorado mountains, presumably downed by a combination of engine failure and bad weather. There were no survivors.

The author’s writing is direct without flourish. She’s at her strongest when she describes her internal struggles: “Disbelief, despair… then hope; betrayal, abandonment… then guilt; compassion… then self-pity; but always feeling emptiness.”

The book weakens as she veers into a long segment of family history. Part of the retracing includes her teenage courtship with a rakish boy whom she marries despite parental concerns they are too young. It’s at once charming and important to establish the couple’s deep love.

But the sudden jump to family ancestry and random memories feels jarring, diluting the story’s overall strength. A tighter structure with more focus on her family’s day-to-day existence under terrible strain, and backstories woven into this main narrative, would have been more powerful.

Still, this is a true tale of unfathomable pain that sometimes leaps from the pages, offering gripping moments when at its best.

Also available as an ebook.

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