Rastko Petrović

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Rastko Petrović (Belgrade, (1898-03-03)3 March 1898 – Washington, D.C., (1949-08-15)15 August 1949) was a Serbian poet, writer, diplomat, literary and art critic.[1] He is the brother of well-known Serbian painter Nadežda Petrović. Rastko Petrović was a contemporary and friend of Guillaume Apollinaire, James Joyce, Saint-John Perse, Picasso, Max Ernst and others.


He was born on 3 March 1898 in Belgrade, the ninth child of Dimitrije Petrović, art professor, and his wife Mileva Petrović (née Zorić), teacher. Rastko Petrović's godfather was a writer Jaša Tomić. Petrović's house in Belgrade was a gathering place for leading Serbian intellectuals, writers, artists, and historians, and young Rastko had an opportunity to meet many of them, including playwright Ivo Vojnović, fiction writer Ivo Ćipiko, Petar Kočić, and others.

During World War I, as a 17-year-old high school graduate, he took part in the heroic, fighting retreat of the Serbian Army over the Albanian mountains. After serving in the Serbian Army in World War I, he went to college in Nice, studied law in Paris, where he established contacts with the artistic elite of that period, including Pablo Picasso, André Breton and Paul Éluard. After graduating in 1920, he returned to Serbia. There he joined the diplomatic corps in 1923 and served in Rome, Italy, and from the end of 1935 to the beginning of 1945 in the United States, Chicago and Washington, D.C. His nine years as a diplomat of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the United States are by far the most significant period of his career.

As a diplomat of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Rastko Petrović travelled extensively throughout Europe, the Levant, Turkey, Africa, Mexico, Cuba, and Canada. Although he left a travelogue after every journey, there is nothing about his understanding of Europe to be found in his letters from Spain and Italy. There is a letter from Rome, in which he writes about a dinner party during which the works of Marcel Proust are discussed. He wrote for a cosmopolitan folk who had their own memories of Toledo or the Vatican, whose members studied at European schools of higher learning, served in diplomatic corps of its major capitals, reported from Europe as foreign correspondents, or travelled there for their own personal intellectual enrichment. But not everyone, however, would have heard of Proust outside France in the early 1920s; it was something worth writing about from Rome while his novels were being translated. As with others of his generation, Petrović felt at home in Europe, somewhat conceited perhaps.

While travelling through Libya in 1928, Rastko Petrović wrote that Africa has no end and is bereft of people. "One can travel through it for days on end and never meet a single living soul.[This quote needs a citation] Everything I thought could be reduced to: not being a European, what conceit! Not to be a European, what conceit! And still, I know that only a European can fecundate such ground and whole continents!"

Before entering the diplomatic service, Rastko Petrović was a poet and novelist. His first novel, Burleska gospodina Peruna boga groma (The Burlesque of Mr. Perun the God of Thunder) was published in Belgrade in 1921 accompanied with rave reviews. "Petrović erases the boundaries between real and unreal, between the possible and the impossible, between logic and nonsense, for the purpose of shocking the reader and exploring new possibilities in literature," one critic wrote. At the time he was friends with poets Milan Dedinac and Marko Ristić (surrealist), the founder of the Belgrade surrealist movement.

It was only fitting that Petrović would continue to write upon arriving as vice-consul in Chicago on 14 November 1935. His most important literary work in America was the completion of his novel Dan šesti (The Sixth Day), which he began writing in Libya almost three years earlier (1932). He was also the first Serbian writer to write a novel set in America. The second part of the novel takes place in Washington and New England. The tenuous connection with the first part, which deals with the heroic and traumatic retreat of the Serbian army through the mountains of Albania in 1915, is maintained only through three characters, the protagonist of both parts, Stevan Papa-Katić; a woman he met during his trek through Albania; and a young woman at whose birth he assisted on the same journey twenty-three years ago.

Petrović's other work from America, a play called "The Sibinian Women", was written in New England and perhaps for that reason has fewer ties with the author's homeland. Unfortunately, he tells us even less about America, unless we consider a plot about a murder, so prevalent on television nowadays, as being typically an American state of affairs. However weak the plot may appear, Petrović shows how a privileged few live a seemingly useless life and die an even more senseless death.

Based at the Royal Yugoslav embassy in Washington, D.C. during World War II, he quit the diplomatic service after the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed, and stayed privately in the United States after the war, like many of his Serbian colleagues who left the service and stayed in the West (Jovan Dučić, Milan Rakić and Miloš Crnjanski). Petrović died in America on the 15th of August 1949.

In 1986, after official recognition, Petrović's remains were returned to his homeland and buried in Belgrade's Novo Groblje.[1]


Petrović wanted to establish a connection between the old folk tradition and the new literary trends. He turned his attention for a while to lyric poetry, looking for forgotten poetic processes which would enable him to discover new, universal aesthetics. He also studied painting, ethnology and psychology.

  • Burleska gospodina Peruna boga groma (The Burlesque of Mr. Perun the God of Thunder, a novel, 1921)
  • Otkrovenje (Revelation, poems, 1922)
  • Sa silama nemerljivim (With Immovable Forces, a novel, 1927)
  • Afrika (Africa, a travelogue, 1930)
  • Ljudi govore (People Speak, a novel, 1931)
  • Dan šesti (The Sixth Day, a novel, 1941)


  1. ^ a b Robert B. Pynsent; Sonia I. Kanikova (1993). The Everyman Companion to East European Literature. Dent. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-460-87201-0. Retrieved 7 April 2013.

Most of the biographical material has been translated and adapted into English from: (2.) Serbian Wikipedia; (3.) Radovan Popović, Izabrani čovek ili život Rastka Petrovića (Belgrade, 1986); (4.) Miladin Milošević, Rastko Petrović: Diplomatski spisi (Belgrade, 1994).

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