The Red Leather Diary – Book Review

redleatherdiary “Mile Stones Five Year Diary” was written in gold letters across the book’s worn cover. Holding my breath, I released the brass latch. Despite the rusted keyhole, the diary was unlocked. Little pieces of red leather sprinkled onto my white comforter. “This book belongs to…Florence Wolfson.” – from The Red Leather Diary, page 13 –

In 2003, journalist Lily Koppel exited her apartment at 98 Riverside Drive in New York and was surprised to see more than fifty trunks and valises from a bygone era piled high in a red dumpster. Intrigued, she climbed up and began excavating. Amid relics from the 1920s and 30s, stored within the confines of a forgotten trunk, was a small red leather diary written by a young girl. This discovery would not only change the course of Koppel’s life, but would open up the long forgotten world of Florence Wolfson – a precocious and passionate young woman who dreamed of a literary life and sought love while growing up in New York City. Born in 1915, Florence Wolfson came of age during Prohibition, the Depression and WWII. She was raised by Jewish immigrant parents who worked their way up to Manhattan’s fashionable neighborhoods. Florence’s voice within the pages of her diary drew Koppel to her. Here was a young girl who was highly intelligent, ahead of her time and driven to live life to its fullest.

The Red Leather Diary combines diary entries with narrative developed from interviews Koppel had with ninety year old Florence…who she located with help from a private investigator three years after discovering the diary.  The book gives the reader a glimpse into the thoughts and dreams of a privileged girl who excelled in music, art and writing. It is also filled with teenage passion and drama as Florence discovers love with both boys and girls.  Florence Wolfson started a literary salon (a novel idea) in 1934 which included famous poets John Berryman and Delmore Schwartz; and she traveled alone  to Europe in 1936, on the cusp of WWII. Koppel captures the life of this enigmatic and strongly independent young woman perfectly.

But the book is not just about Florence – it is also about its author who arrived in New York City at the age of 22  seeking to make her own mark in the world. In an interview at the end of the book, Lily Koppel writes:

When I moved to New York, like every young person drawn to the big city, my quest echoed Florence’s: I was seeking love, meaning in my life, and, as a writer, a story.

Koppel’s discovery inflamed her imagination. When she finally was able to meet Florence Wolfson face to face, an immediate friendship formed – a unique  connection between a young woman at the beginning of her life and an older woman looking back on her youth.

How do you feel when a forgotten chunk of your life, full of adolescent angst and passion, is handed to you? How do you feel when you see your striving, feeling, immature self through your now elderly  eyes? It stopped my heart for a moment. That was me? – written by Florence (Wolfson) Howitt, September 3, 2007 –

I read straight through The Red Leather Diary, finding myself immersed in a time long gone through the words of a girl who wanted to live in the center of it all. Koppel has written a marvelous book that tugs at the reader’s imagination.

Highly recommended.


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    • Kathy on February 15, 2009 at 05:42

    Great review. This one is on my wish list.

  1. This sounds great! I’ll be adding it to my TBR list as I’m finding that I enjoy historical fiction more and more.

    • Diane on February 15, 2009 at 11:36

    I liked this book when I read it as well. I have also read all of the Lahari books and just love her style of writing.

    • Wendy on February 16, 2009 at 09:20

    Kathy and Samantha: Make sure you enter the giveaway!

    Diane: Glad to see you also liked the book 🙂

    • Anna on February 16, 2009 at 12:09

    This one sounds interesting. Great review!

    • Tara on February 17, 2009 at 12:05

    I just bought this so I’m sorry I missed your contest! Great review.

  2. I really want to read this one!

    • Wendy on February 18, 2009 at 08:28

    Thanks, Anna.

    Tara: Aw, too bad…but on the other hand, the book is worth the money to buy it!

    S. Krishna: You will like it, I’m sure!

    • Linda in Maine on March 3, 2009 at 16:54

    Just what I like best — a story inside a story. On the list!

    • Wendy on March 7, 2009 at 11:10

    You’ll love this one, Linda!

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