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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.
Lily Koppel writes for the New York Times and other publications. She lives in New York City.
“Skillful reporting, fine prose and [an] excellent eye for period detail. . . . A story about not one but two lovable characters—and the city that brought them together.”
-New York Times Book Review
“Florence’s life reads like E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime in places, with all the famous paths crossed and situations experienced; while descriptions of city life recall Marjorie Hart’s Summer at Tiffany... Together, Koppel and Florence take readers through a world dizzy with new ideas, rhythms and inventions.”
“After a front-page story appeared in the New York Times Sunday City section, interest in Florence’s 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.”
“Koppel’s love of New York is obvious in the details she draws from Florence’s diary, which show how the city has changed in ways both big and small. An entertaining and enjoyable work.”
“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 life—real and imagined—fills its worn pages.”
-Reader's Digest (Editors' Choice)
“New York Times writer Lily Koppel’s The Red Leather Diary melds three life-affirming subjects—Florence Wolfson’s journal of life in 1930s Manhattan, Koppel’s discovery of it in a Dumpster decades later, and the meeting of the two women—into one enchanting memoir.”
“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.”
“A window into a fascinating and privileged world. . . . Rewarding.”
“THE RED LEATHER DIARY is a fascinating book—inventive and inspiring.”
-Erica Jong, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fear of Flying