The Red Leather Diary
by Lily Koppel
Review by Robin
This paperback found its way into my hands in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the way Florence Wolfsan’s diary was discovered by New York Times journalist, Lily Koppel. Mine was a last minute addition from a pile of “buy two get one free” books and Florence’s diary was retrieved from a dumpster in Manhattan. Bought as a kind of throw-away read, this book was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed several days gaining real life, personal insight into what it must have been like to come of age in New York City between 1929 and 1934.
Adolescent angst could have become tiresome in less skilled hands that Koppel’s but, perhaps because she saw so many parallels between her life and Florence’s, the author was able to make five years worth of short diary entries into something vital and interesting. It doesn’t hurt that the protagonist is spirited, creative, privileged and widely traveled, and that she is surprisingly explicit about her sexual exploration, but it is her love of life and her search for the answers of life’s fundamental existential questions that give the book its charm. Who am I, what is the meaning of my life, what makes me happy, where and how do I find love: aren’t these the very questions we ask ourselves at every transition in our lives? Just as rereading her diary restores a sense of wonder and excitement to 92 year old Florence, getting to know Florence as she grew from age 14 to 18 inspired me to pull out my own diaries and to see them through slightly different eyes. Looking back and looking forward thought the eyes of Florence Wolfsen and Lily Koppel provides a nostalgic and enjoyable read.
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This review first appeared as part of our Novel Destinations Summer Reading Program.