Author: Andrea Ramírez
“I am not lost just because I am wandering.” Shiva Ryu
The translation of Korean literature into Spanish has opened the door to a wider diffusion of the works of different Korean authors in recent years; and certainly, most of these authors are women. However, today I come to tell you about a peculiar Korean writer that I found thanks to the book club 독서화 (Dokseohwa) to which I belong. There, we read one Korean literature book per month and share our perceptions through a discussion. June’s book was Don’t Put a Period Where God Put a Comma by Shiva Ryu. Therefore, in this blog, I will tell you about the life of this author, some of his works, and a little bit about his only book translated into Spanish so far. Let’s start!
Ryu Shiva was born in 1959 in Okseon, his real name is An Jaechan. He is a poet, literary critic, and professor of Korean literature and language. He studied Korean literature at Kyung Hee University, with a scholarship in creative writing. In his second year of college, he won a literature contest with his poem Achim (아침 – Tomorrow). Since 1983, he has concentrated on translating meditation books into Korean. Also, since 1988, he has lived in different meditation centers in the United States and India, in fact, he visits this Asian country frequently and uses his experiences for his writing process, which is why it is very common to find references to Buddhism, meditation, and hiking.
According to an interview with ChanelYes¹, for a while, Shiva Ryu was a Korean language teacher, but he quit and went to work for a magazine, where he stayed for a few months before opening his own café, which was in operation for only three months. Subsequently, he started working at a publishing house, and after an experience with the book The Cleaner Who Became a Saint by Baba Haridas, he decided that he would quit and go into Korean translation of this text. These experiences can be related to what he mentions about wandering, but not being lost, because Shiva Ryu sees the human as a being who must be on the road in constant movement and who must experience.
Regarding his publications, in 1991 and 1996, he published poetry books called Even Though You Are Next To Me I Miss You (그대가 곁에 있어도 나는 그대가 그립다) and The Love of the One-eyed Fish (외눈박이 물고기의 사랑). The first one, in fact, appeared 21 times on the list of best sellers until 1998. Also, proverbs have been another of his literary loves, so he has a few books with compilations of these, such as Flowers Blossom in the Mountains (산에는 꽃이 피네), which is a compilation of the Bhuddish verses and proverbs of Beopjeong Sunim or May All Beings Be Happy (살아 있는 것은 다 행복하라) and Love, As If You’ve Never Been Hurt Before (사랑하라 한번도 상처받지 않은 것처럼), written in the first decade of the 21st-century².
One of the important pillars of his writing are his travels and the experiences he has gained from them. Shiva Ryu is in love with India, visiting it even four times a year, so it is not a surprise that we find references to this country and its beautiful scenaries in his books. One of the ways of approaching this country has been through meditation practices and hiking, which he mentions in works such as A Trip To The Sky Lake (하늘 호수로 떠난 여행) and The Earth Traveler (지구별 여행자) in 1997 and 2002, respectively.
Now, let’s talk a little about his only book in Spanish, “No pongas un punto donde Dios puso una coma” originally called 신이 쉼표를 넣은 곳에 마침표를 찍지 말라 was published in 2019. Its Spanish translation is from the year 2022, by the Spanish publisher DIANA, which is an imprint of “Editorial Planeta”. The translation by the Spaniard Carlos Miranda de Las Heras was not from the original text, but from the German translation. It has 255 pages, and it is in the genre of self-help books. The book has a prologue by the author and six parts that are divided into several stories, although it is difficult to list the number of stories in total, since even in a single four-page section there can be three stories. In this text, Shiva Ryu explores different themes such as self-care, continuous practice, and self-belief through various texts; however, this book does not have a clear backbone with respect to its subject matter as it jumps from one theme to another and does not have a specific storyline within the text.
Many of the stories come from his personal experience, for example, he talks about his college years, his first literature contest, and the first time he went hiking in India, among many other stories. After all, Ryu is a man of more than sixty years who has traveled the world. Therefore, it is possible that with some of the stories, the reader creates a connection and that others seem cliché or repetitive. With some of the stories, it is possible to identify with or laugh at them, while others may seem a bit heavy, either because of the characters or the way the action is told. That is why this book is undoubtedly one of those that you experience differently, depending on the moment of life you are going through. So it is advisable to read this book in several moments and slowly, since it does not follow a linear narrative and it is possible to get lost or feel it heavy, if you try to get from beginning to end in a continuous reading. And it is good to take the time to think a bit about each story if you have the time. Still, this isn’t the type of read for everyone, but I think it’s worth giving it a chance, regardless of what your favorite literary genre is.
On the other hand, this book has the magic of awakening curiosity about the work of other writers and philosophers, as Shiva Ryu explores various aspects of the human experience while alluding to some of Carl Jung’s stories, taking the words of Borges, or exploring the work of Ernest Hemingway. This particularity made the book more engaging for me. I will not say that it was the best book I have read, but I can say that several of his stories caught my attention, made me reflect on the importance of constancy when facing new projects, taught me a little about the concept of empathy through a story of a tree that listens but withers after so much negativity, and the stories awakened my curiosity about other works and artists.
Many times, approaching the lives of authors helps us understand a little more about their work, and what they capture in their texts, I believe that by seeing a little about the life of Shiva Ryu, you can also understand some particularities of his writing style and interests. I hope that if you are passionate about Korean literature, you are willing to explore more and more books that we have translated into Spanish from different authors, like Shiva Ryu. Did you know this author? Would you be interested in reading his work? Finally, I recommend you check out his Instagram and Facebook profiles, there you can see news about his work and a bit about his travels.
Written by: Andrea Ramírez
Reviewed by: Luisa Quintero
[4월호 커버 스토리] 류시화 “덜 움츠리고 덜 비난하고 더 많이 예찬하라” | 예스24 채널예스. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2023, from https://ch.yes24.com/Article/View/33101
Shiva RYU. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2023, from http://library.ltikorea.or.kr/writer/200256
¹To have an interview with him it is a surprise, it seems he does not like to give interviews.
²If you want to know more about him and his books, please go to Digital Library of Korean Literature.