Synopses & Reviews
Rescued from a Dumpster on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a discarded diary brings to life the glamorous, forgotten world of an extraordinary young woman.
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 ingenue 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 venturesback to the girl she once was, rediscovering a lost self that burned with artistic fervor.
Joining intimate interviews with original diary entries, Koppel reveals the world of a New York teenager obsessed with the state of her soul and her appearance, and muses on the serendipitous chain of events that returned the lost journal to its owner. Evocative and entrancing, The Red Leather Diary re-creates the romance and glitter, sophistication and promise, of 1930s New York, bringing to life the true story of a precocious young woman who dared to follow her dreams.
“Florences life reads like E.L. Doctorows Ragtime in places, with all the famous paths crossed and situations experienced; while descriptions of city life recall Marjorie Harts Summer at Tiffany... Together, Koppel and Florence take readers through a world dizzy with new ideas, rhythms and inventions.” BookPage
“New York Times writer Lily Koppels The Red Leather Diary melds three life-affirming subjectsFlorence Wolfsons journal of life in 1930s Manhattan, Koppels discovery of it in a Dumpster decades later, and the meeting of the two womeninto one enchanting memoir.” Elle
“Skillful reporting, fine prose and [an] excellent eye for period detail. . . . A story about not one but two lovable charactersand the city that brought them together.” New York Times Book Review
“THE RED LEATHER DIARY is a fascinating bookinventive and inspiring.” Erica Jong, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fear of Flying
“In The Red Leather Diary, Lily Koppel finds an old journal in a Dumpster, gets lost in its rich take on 1930s New York and, improbably, tracks down the now-90-year-old woman whose lifereal and imaginedfills its worn pages.” Reader's Digest (Editors' Choice)
“Koppels love of New York is obvious in the details she draws from Florences diary, which show how the city has changed in ways both big and small. An entertaining and enjoyable work.” Library Journal
“A window into a fascinating and privileged world. . . . Rewarding.” Publishers Weekly
“Sparked by a felicitous discovery in an Upper West Side dumpster, New York Times writer Lily Koppel spins an enthralling true fairy tale about a Depression-era ingénue.” Vogue
“After a front-page story appeared in the New York Times Sunday City section, interest in Florences fascinating story prompted the author to write a full-length book that works as both a biography and a spellbinding glimpse into a vanished era.” Booklist
For more than half a century, the red leather diary languished inside a steamer trunk. Rescued from a Dumpster on Manhattan's Upper West Side, it found its way to Lily Koppel, a young writer, who opened its tarnished brass lock and journeyed into an enthralling past. The diary painted a breathtaking portrait of a bygone New York—of glamorous nights at El Morocco and elegant teas at Schrafft's during the 1920s and '30s—and of the headstrong, endearing teenager who filled its pages with her hopes, heartaches, and vivid recollections. Intrigued, Koppel followed her only clue, a frontispiece inscription, to its now ninety-year-old owner, Florence Wolfson, and was enchanted as Florence, reunited with her diary, rediscovered a lost younger self burning with artistic fervor.
Joining intimate interviews with original diary entries, The Red Leather Diary re-creates the romance and promise of a remarkable era and brings to life the true story of a daring, precocious young dreamer.
About the Author
Lily Koppel writes for the New York Times and other publications. She lives in New York City.