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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

March 13, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

IN THE SHADOW OF THE FLAME: Three Journeys by Margaret Croyden. (Continuum: $17.95; 169 pp.) Driven by a "serious distaste for life," a midlife nagging emptiness from the past, Croyden (author, English professor, and experimental theater critic in New York), without any formal plan, embarks on three very different journeys that each add their shovel of dirt to the hole in her life. The first is an "outing," reminiscent of a story told in "My Dinner With Andre," in the Polish woods with a group of actors, led by the theater director Jerzy Grotowski, an experiment he calls "paratheatre." Croyden is told nothing about where they are going, is allowed to bring nothing, and watches bitterly as the other, mostly younger, members of the group perform a series of dances and rituals that fold them into each other and back into nature. She is afraid and separate, a condition she attributes to her Jewishness: "Afraid, afraid of new things, afraid of the earth, of the grain, of the wet, of being what I am." The effect, once back in New York, seems to be that she is a little bit lighter and more awake. The second journey is a visit with Baba Muktananda, which awakens some nasty memories of Croyden's father, mostly sexual; and the third journey is to Tel Aviv, again to ponder the question of her Jewishness, and finally, to find dignity and a sense of heritage in it. Croyden spends very little time on the "lessons" learned, which is a relief, because the journeys are artfully described and speak for themselves.

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