Book: The Red Leather Diary
Author: Lily Koppel
My Short Review: Very interesting premise, a fascinating story, a peep at the life in New York in the early 1930s.A little slow.
My rating: 4 Stars
Challenge: Jewish Literature Challenge
I came across a description of “The Red Leather Diary” during a Jewish Book Festival here in Atlanta. The cover of the book instantly caught my eye and the story line immediately made me add to it my wishlist. I had bookmarked this book for the Jewish Literature Challenge and I finally got to it this month.
The premise of “The Red Leather Diary” is very interesting. Lily Koppel is a journalist. She lives in New York City and writes for the New York Times. One day in October 2003, Lily walks outside her apartment in 98, Riverside Drive to find a dumpster full of old trunks. The building management had decided to clean out the storage room in the basement and all unclaimed trunks were being discarded. Some of the trunks dated back to the early twentieth century.
In this dumpster, among other things, Lily finds a diary. Little red flakes were crumbling off the worn cover. Many many years ago, this would have been an attractive red leather diary with its own key. The Diary has a page for each date and on each page, and each page had 5 sections for 5 different years.
The diary belonged to a young jewish girl – Florence Wolfson. Florence received the diary on August 11, 1929 for her fourteenth birthday. Every day for the next 5 years, Florence diligently wrote in her little red book. She shared the most memorable moments of every single day for the 5 years until she turned 19. Lily reads the diary and goes on a quest to find Florence. The surprising thing is that she finds Florence, now 90 years old. This book is Florence’s story.
What is charming about the book is the fact that Florence is no special child. I mean with an IQ of 150, she’s gifted and all that… but apart from that, her life is extremely normal. Like most girls her age, she is obsessed with her looks and with boys (and maybe some girls as well!). She spends her days window shopping, visiting museums, drawing, painting, reading, watching plays, etc.
What I enjoyed tremendously about the book was that it gave us a peep into the life of people in New York in the early thirties. 1930s is not that ancient – in fact, Florence is still alive. But it is amazing to see how everything has changed in this short period of time. Everything from the way people think and behave to the most obvious change – technological advancements. One more thing that I really enjoyed were the photographs that were found throughout the book. It was fun to associate the descriptions to real faces and places.
Lily Koppel has definitely put in a lot of effort to recreate the life of Florence based on the few lines she wrote in her diary. Her effort is commendable.
There is one little thing that I must mention here. I found the book a little slow moving at times. There were times when I got a little tired of Florence and had to put the book down and just watch some TV. The premise was very interesting. I sometimes wished that the book could have been a little shorter.
But that might not even be because of the book. I have been in a ready frenzy the last few weeks and it might just be time for me to take a little break before delving into my next book.
Here’s a description from the back cover of the book
“The young woman who emerged from the diary’s pages had huge ambitions, even if chasing them proved daunting. February 21, 1931. Went to the Museum of Modern Art and almost passed out from sheer jealousy – I can’t even paint an apple yet – it’s heartbreaking! January 16, 1932. I couldn’t study today and went to the museum to pass a morning of agonizing beauty – blown glass, jade and exquisite embroideries. April 10, 1932. Wrote all day – and my story is still incomplete. September 2, 1934. Planning a play on Wordsworth – possibilities are infinite. October 12, 1934. How I love to inflict pain on my characters!
What she craved most was to be enveloped in a grand passion that would transform her life. July 3, 1932. Five hours of tennis and glorious happiness – all I want is someone to love – I feel incomplete.”
That was a teaser that roped me in! Are you tempted??
Have you read this book? What did you think of it?