Courtesy of Cinema Guild
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
It is not by chance that Vadim Jendreyko’s documentary, “The Woman With the 5 Elephants,” about an 87-year-old Russian-to-German translator, opens with the image of a train crossing a bridge. As the lights from the windows of the moving train flicker through the night, Svetlana Geier’s voice recites:
Dear friend, do you not see that everything we see is but reflections of that which is invisible to our sight? Dear friend, do you not hear that life’s reverberating noise is but the echo of transcendent harmonies? Dear friend, do you not sense that nothing in the world apart from this exists: that one heart speaks to another wordlessly?
She is reading this passage in German, words she translated from the Russian, words that amuse her because they refer to saying something without words. This thrills her because if something is said wordlessly it does not need to be translated.
Svetlana Geier is considered the world’s most masterful translator of Russian literature into German. The five elephants in the movie’s title refer to Dostoevsky’s great literary works, all of which have been translated by Geier.
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