Sunday, March 15, 2009

Review: The Red Leather Diary

Summary: 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. -- Harper Perennial

I'm not sure if you've heard about THE RED LEATHER DIARY: RECLAIMING A LIFE THROUGH THE PAGES OF A LOST JOURNAL by Lily Koppel. I have seen the book featured on a quite a few blogs lately and knew I had to read it based on the background story alone. Lily Koppel, a journalist, was walking past her apartment when she saw a huge dumpster filled with old suitcases. She jumped right into the dumpster and started going through the trunks. Among the goodies she found was a red leather diary that belonged to Florence Wolfson. She eventually tracks down Ms. Wolfson (now Howitt) who is living in Florida and returns the diary to her. They immediately feel a connection, and the result is this book! How UNBELIEVABLE is that?

While I admit that I decided to read this book based on the story surrounding this diary, I was immediately caught up in the diary's contents and the life of Ms. Wolfson. She was a most incredible young lady who happened to maintain a diary on a daily basis for five years (from the time she was 14 until she was 19.) That in itself is amazing to me because I can never stick to journaling on a regular basis. She led an extremely interesting life, encountering tons of fascinating people, while also being an intriguing young woman in her own right.

This book definitely make me "feel" and "see" New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. Ms. Koppel's descriptions of the various places in the diary were incredible -- I think she captured the essence of the city perfectly. The photographs that were included in the book also enhanced the wonderful descriptions. I really could imagine New York and it was as alive as any character in this story.

Ms. Koppel is more interesting than most fictional characters that appear in books. She was an extremely bright and mature young woman who was way ahead of her time. I was fascinated not only by her relationships, with both men and women, but also by her insights into life. She was an especially creative person and met so many diverse individuals. She wasn't afraid of anything! I have to admit that I was a little surprised (definitely not disappointed though) that she settled down and got married just a few years after her diary ended.

There is no doubt that this story is amazing -- both Ms. Koppel's finding of the diary as well as Ms. Wolfson's life; however, I am very touched by the friendship that was forged between the two women. It's apparent to me that Ms. Koppel was passionate about telling Ms. Wolfson's story and that she feels a definite affinity with her. What I also loved about this story is that it made me really think about the women in my life. I now find myself wondering what my grandmothers and great-grandmothers were like before they became wives, mothers, and grandmothers. I immediately wanted to pick up the phone and ask my grandmas (I'm still fortunate enough to have both of them plus one grandfather) to tell me about their younger selves.

THE RED LEATHER DIARY is an incredible book. It is filled with so many interesting and thought-provoking things to talk about. I do think it would make a wonderful book for your next book club meeting. There is already a reading guide with some terrific topics for discussion. In addition, there is a website devoted to the book. You can link to Ms. Koppel's blog, read an excerpt, and even invite Ms. Koppel to your book club discussion.

A big thanks to author Lily Koppel and Amy from Harper Collins for sending me this incredible book! I definitely recommend it to everyone!


Ti said...

I won this from you and I can't wait to read it.

Cheryl said...

I will have to check this book out. I like you have seen it everywhere

Amy said...

I have this one on my TBR pile so I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it so much, Julie!

Melanie said...

I've got to get a copy of this and read it. It sounds like something my book club would love.

S. Krishna said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one because it's on my shelf and I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the review!

Beth F said...

Sounds really good -- I haven't been paying attention to the reviews of this; I should have!

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book, too. Wouldn't you love to meet Florence? She sounds so fascinating.

Lisa (Southern Girl Reads) said...

I loved your review of this book. I can't wait ti read it!

Monae said...

Hello. Today I was at Barnes & Noble and I saw this book and I decided to get it. I think that it will be interesting to read it. I am glad you recommended this book. I think that it will be worth reading for me. Thanks for sharing this.