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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: The Red Leather Diary

Author: Lily Koppel
Publisher: HarperCollins

Pub Date: 2008
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Pages: 320 Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780061256783


From Harper Collins:

For more than half a century, the red leather diary lay silent, languishing inside a steamer trunk, its worn cover crumbling into little flakes. When a cleaning sweep of a New York City apartment building brings this lost treasure to light, both the diary and its owner are given a second life.
Recovered by Lily Koppel, a young writer working at the New York Times, the journal paints a vivid picture of 1930s New York—horseback riding in Central Park, summer excursions to the Catskills, and an obsession with a famous avant-garde actress. From 1929 to 1934, not a single day's entry is skipped.


Opening the tarnished brass lock, Koppel embarks on a journey into the past, traveling to a New York in which women of privilege meet for tea at Schrafft's, dance at the Hotel Pennsylvania, and toast the night at El Morocco. As she turns the diary's brittle pages, Koppel is captivated by the headstrong young woman whose intimate thoughts and emotions fill the pale blue lines. Who was this lovely ingénue who adored the works of Baudelaire and Jane Austen, who was sexually curious beyond her years, who traveled to Rome, Paris, and London?


Compelled by the hopes and heartaches captured in the pages, Koppel sets out to find the diary's owner, her only clue the inscription on the frontispiece—"This book belongs to . . . Florence Wolfson." A chance phone call from a private investigator leads Koppel to Florence, a ninety-year-old woman living with her husband of sixty-seven years. Reunited with her diary, Florence ventures back to the girl she once was, rediscovering a lost self that burned with artistic fervor.

My Thoughts:

Oh to be a well-off young Manhattan girl during the 1930s! The art, the conversations, the theatre, the boys, the girls...what an adventure!

The book contains a diary entry of a few sentences, and then the story surrounding those entries is related by Florence. The diary begins when Florence receives it as a present on her fourteenth birthday, and ends with the last entry of her 19th year. The time in between is filled with art, trips to the museum, relationships with boys and girls, and summer vacations.
Florence started college when she was fifteen. She was extremely smart and was quite the philosopher.

There are also some old photos included within the pages of the book, so it is very easy to be transported back to Florence's time, and to put a face with a name. It personalizes the story.

Florence led an amazing life and has very interesting stories to tell. This book is written well considering the information was gathered from extensive interviews. The author, Koppel, does try to connect herself with Florence's story, but I think it's understandable given that she found the diary and was having some adventures herself at that time in her life. Some have said that Koppel compares and likens herself to Florence, but I didn't have that impression. It could be possible that I ignored that aspect, because I felt this was Florence's book and story to tell.

Overall, I liked this book and recommend it to anyone looking for a glimpse into the past. It was a quick, fun, and enjoyable read.

My Rating: 4.25/5


Thank you to Dawn from She Is Too Fond of Books. I won this book on her blog, so please go check her out. There is a lovely website for this book here.

8 comments:

Arleigh said...

Sounds like a good read! I need to read more early 20th century books.

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the review Jenny and also for your kind words on my blog. It looks like we have some similar reading interests so I will probably be stopping over more often!

Angie said...

I read this book a few months ago for my blog. I just love history, and I was so jealous of the author who had access to all of the old clothes/books etc that were being thrown out of that apartment.

Jenny Girl said...

Angie: I was jealous too! I would have dumpster dived in a heart beat. Just thinking about all that stuff that got thrown out made me a little sad :(

stacybuckeye said...

I think this is already on one of my TBR lists. Great review!

Marie Burton said...

Nice review, I hadn't heard of this book so I'll have to add it to my wish list.
I know you just did an award round-up post, but I also have left you an award on my post here, do with it what you will; but I hope you like it.
Take care,
marie

Toni said...

Awesome review.. the second one I read today. I really want to read this one.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Jenny, I'm glad you enjoyed THE RED LEATER DIARY; what a life Florence had in Manhattan in the 30s!

did you happen to listen to the interview with Lily Koppel on Book Club Girl? It's really good, and there's a *surprise* near the end :)

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