In a small seaside town in Croatia in 1964, a little boy and little girl meet. They are stunned by the sight of each other; the boy, Luka, faints, and the girl, Dora, wakes him with a kiss. This scenario might touch your heart, but maybe you’ll roll your eyes. I did, especially since Dora is only two. But soon you will be convinced. Arrested. Intoxicated. Natasa Dragnic’s debut, Every Day, Every Hour, is a beautiful, intense little book.

Dora and Luka become inseparable despite their three-year age difference. They spend every minute they can together, often on their special beachside rock while Luka paints the sea. Their first heartache comes when she is six and he is nine: Dora’s family moves away to Paris. Their connection and this separation are life-shaping events, and while they each pursue their passions—Luka’s art, Dora’s acting—the feeling that something is missing is palpable. Their chance reunion comes when Luka exhibits his work in Paris, and the beginning of their love as adults is nothing short of wondrous.

But fate has other ideas: When Luka goes home to see his family, there is his old girlfriend, whose acquaintance he had recently made again, before Paris. She is pregnant.

So begins more than two decades of stubbornly obtained and refused love, yearning and loss. Dora’s star rises in Paris while Luka’s talents languish in a hotel desk job supporting his wife and child. He does not love the wife at all, and his choices and weaknesses are nearly as frustrating for the reader as they are for Dora. But the pair never lose their need for each other. It permeates them, and that’s a potent spell. The tenderness with which Dragnic paints her characters in both happiness and pain leaves one breathless, even in tears. (I cried. A lot.) Her words have a hooking rhythm, and the novel’s structure is like a song, with verses and repeating choruses: events repeat, entire passages resurface with small changes, and it is reassuring, entrancing, even as it makes you ache.

“Who has ever loved as we do?” Luka quotes Pablo Neruda. Indeed. Hopeless romantics will love this book. It deserves a chance from others, too. Pick it up; let it work its magic.

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