In the mid1960s, in a small seaside town in Croatia, two children, Luka and Dora, meet on their way to kindergarten. Luka faints upon seeing Dora and she revives him with a kiss and the words “you are my prince . . . only mine.” From then on, the two children are inseparable, and everyone in town is aware of their unusual bond. Even though they are three years apart, they are like two sides of the same coin, uncannily connected to each other. They spend their afternoons on their special rock while Luka paints; they watch clouds, eat ice cream and go boating. They seem destined to be togetherthat is, until Dora’s parents move to Paris, taking their daughter with them.
Throughout their teenage years, Dora and Luka live separate but parallel lives. Luka, increasingly brooding and aloof, develops his painting and Dora studies to be an actress. As the distant memories of their idyllic youth fade, both fight an emptiness they can’t explain, and even though they attempt to have relationships with other people, neither ever feels anything approaching love.
All of that changes when Luka goes to Paris to show his work. By chance, he runs into Dora at their mutual friend’s gallery. Now in their early twenties, the two embark on a hotblooded affair, blotting out the rest of the worldincluding their respective romantic partnersfor three allconsuming months of romance, bolstered by their sense of fate and a shared adoration of Pablo Neruda’s poetry. When Luka must return to Croatia, he leaves with a promise that their separation will be temporary, that nothing will ever keep them apart for any length of time again. But when he gets home, he’s given news that forces him to make a painful decision. With circumstances conspiring against them, Luka and Dora’s powerful bond is threatened again, and this time they must face the possibility that perhaps they are not truly meant to be together after all.
Set in a vividly drawn prewar Croatia, Natasa Dragnic’s debut novel is a haunting tale of starcrossed lovers that transcends place and time. With its fiercely passionate protagonists, its spare, elegant prose and its ineffable air of expectation and heartache, Every Day, Every Hour is a romance for the ages.
Natasa Dragnic was born in Split, Croatia. After studying German, English and French, she attended the Croatian (and German) School of Diplomacy. She currently lives in Erlangen, Germany. This is her first novel.
Q. Every Day, Every Hour is your first novel. What inspired you to write this story?
It all started with a short story I wrote for a short story contest and it was about two people meeting in a hotel after long time. It is basically Chapter 40 in the novel. When I finished the story, it kept bothering me that two people, who loved each other and knew they were made for each other, could not manage to spend their life together. My head was full of questions: How is it possible? How do we make choices? How can we live with the choices we made? But above all I was asking myself if love was enough. So I decided to find answers to those questions by writing the whole story of those two people, of Dora and Luka, hoping they would lead me and show me the way. Which they did and I am really grateful for their help.
Q. You have chosen a distant third person point of view for your narration. How did you decide to tell it in this way?
I don’t think my third person is so very distant. There are three main characters in the book: Dora, Luka and the sea! I would have to choose one of them as narrator, which was never an option for me. With so many strong emotions in the novel I needed to look in from outside, I needed an observer who is not a part of those feelings, who can afford to be ironic or sardonic or sarcastic. This part of “how” emerges in my head at the same time as “what about,” meaning that the form and the content of the novel are decided even before I write the first sentence. They cannot be separated. This is how I work.
Q. This novel has an epic, universal quality. How do you make a love story that is very specific to its time and place feel so much bigger?
It is all about Love. It is the deepest longing and the most basic need that we all share: to love and to be loved. It is what makes us equal no matter how old we are, what language we speak, what color our skin is. So when you take away all the names and colors and features and landscapes, it is what you are left with: two people in love. Love so great that it can last for decades and survive everything. The curious thing is that in my first draft, the story was not defined geographically precisely for this reason of universality; but then my writing group protested, they wanted to know exactly where and when. They needed an anchor. Love for living and an anchor for security. This is what we want. And that is why we will never get tired of reading good love stories.
Q. The Croatian coastline and its fishing towns make for an enchanting setting. Are there other ways in which this novel is truly Croatian? Does it belong to any particular narrative tradition?
I wouldn’t know for sure, because I must admit I feel much more at home in German, French and AngloSaxon literature than in Croatian. Nevertheless when I think about my novel and Croatian literary tradition I must think of Croatian poets more than novelists: poems of Ujevic, Matos, Tadijanovic, Cesaric and Parun with their simplicity, lyricism, profoundness and beauty of the language come to mind.
Q. The poems of Pablo Neruda are woven throughout the book as both Luka and Dora are fond of his work. What is your own relationship to his poetry and how did you decide to make it such a fundamental part of the novel?
Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets was the first book I bought by myself. I was fourteen or fifteen and, as usual, in love. I used to be in love all the time. And always unhappy. So Neruda fitted perfectly into my state of mind and heart. At some point I thought, just like Luka did, that those poems are written for me: I recognized my feelings and my suffering in each verse I read. I cried a lot, as you can imagine. So when I thought of Dora and Luka and their love and their story, I simply could not resist! It seemed Neruda really knew them and wrote about them. If Every Day, Every Hour were a poem, it would be one of Neruda’s poems.
Q. Every Day, Every Hour has been sold in more than twenty countries. If you had to pin down one reason for its success what would it be?
More than twenty countries bought the publishing rights even before the book was published in Germany. Now we are approaching thirty! This is what I think: The combination of the love theme, the universal longing that does not respect any language obstacle, and my style, my languageGerman not being my mother tongue, it offered me lots of creative libertiesis what makes the novel so successful.
Q. Like Dora, you are also an actress. How does acting inform your work as a writer?
I would like to have a career like Dora has! Mine is limited to amateur theater, which means a lot of work in less than ideal conditions and with no money. But basically acting and writing are very much the same: It is about living a life that is not one’s ownfor a few hours on the stage or for few months while writing. It is a big adventure! You become a creator. You can live everything you ever wanted to without taking off your pajamas. It is thrilling. It is overwhelming. And then there is the audience. You are, in either case, onstage, as somebody else or as the real you. I like that. “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia,” says E. L. Doctorow. I couldn’t agree more.
Q. At times it can be difficult to sympathize with these characters, especially when they are being unfaithful to the others in their life. How would you want readers to respond to them?
I would like my readers to be sympathetic. No more and no less. If they always remember that at some point or the other we all make mistakes and wrong choices and that it is not ours to condemn but to do our best to understand, I will be happy. I think that all of us have the experience of handling and reacting to the situation differently than what we thought we would when the situation was still abstract and hypothetical. And understanding comes easier when we remember that we get upset about things and people and fictional characters that on some level remind us of us and our own weakness or mistakes.
Q. You have a distinct writing style that is both minimal and lyrical. What authors or books have inspired your work?
It is a tough question. There is Thomas Mann, Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, Hemingway, Austen, there is Philip Roth, Nicole Krauss, Milena Agus and many many others who I love and who all together influenced me one way or the other. But you know, when you sit down to write, you are completely alone and on your own. Nobody can help you. You have to find the right way by yourself. And that is good. That is what makes writing so exciting for me. Finding your own way.
Q. What are you working on now? Will you return to these characters in future works?
For the time being I cannot imagine writing a sequel to Dora and Luka’s story. I said what I wanted to saythat is why I left the end open. But never say never . . . I am about to finish my next novel. It is a story of three sisters, their love-hate relationships with one another; their passions and obsessions; their omnipresent parents; and a weakness all three of them share, a weakness that separates them only to bring them together again. The story covers almost thirty years and is set in Italy, Germany and the United States. I am very excited about it.
- From their earliest interactions, Luka and Dora seem to be soul mates. What makes them so compatible?
- Dora is the only one who can help Luka during his fainting spells. What does she do to wake him up and why does it work?
- Both Dora and Luka are creatively inclined. How do their passions bring them together?
- When they are separated, Dora and Luka each date other people. What is missing in those relationships and why are they dissatisfied?
- Why does Luka ignore Dora’s calls when he first returns home from his Paris vacation? What was your reaction to this turn of events?
- Starcrossed lovers are a common theme throughout literature. What makes these stories so appealing to readers?
- The two lovers are kept apart by life circumstances. What might have happened if they had been able to be together?
- When it comes to relationships, Luka and Dora seem to be keenly aware of their parents’ mistakes. How does the past influence who they become as adults?
- Luka chooses to stay with his daughter, even though he’s not in love with Klara. Why does he make this decision? How is he proven right or wrong in the end?
- What sort of future do you imagine for Luka and Dora at the book’s ending?