Rescued from a Dumpster on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a discarded diary brings to life the glamorous, forgotten world of an extraordinary young woman.
For more than half a century, the red leather diary lay silent, languishing inside a steamer trunk, its worn cover crumbling into little flakes. When a cleaning sweep of a New York City apartment building brings this lost treasure to light, both the diary and its owner are given a second life.
Recovered by Lily Koppel, a young writer working at the New York Times, the journal paints a vivid picture of 1930s New York—horseback riding in Central Park, summer excursions to the Catskills, and an obsession with a famous avant-garde actress. From 1929 to 1934, not a single day’s entry is skipped…
Compelled by the hopes and heartaches captured in the pages, Koppel sets out to find the diary’s owner… Joining intimate interviews with original diary entries, Koppel reveals the world of a New York teenager obsessed with the state of her soul and her appearance, and muses on the serendipitous chain of events that returned the lost journal to its owner. Evocative and entrancing, The Red Leather Diary re-creates the romance and glitter, sophistication and promise, of 1930s New York, bringing to life the true story of a precocious young woman who dared to follow her dreams.
Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book, published December 5th, 2017, in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.
Back when I first heard about this book, I had hoped that it could be a New York City version of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet–a sweeping story about love, grief, and growing up that would eventually leave me with an image of not only the characters, but of the mindsets and circumstances of that time period. Instead, The Red Leather Diary turned out to be little more than a poor attempt to synthesize the diary entries into something cohesive. It was whole in the end, but it lacked focus and meaning.
Strangely enough, the best part of the book was the beginning when Koppel was describing her experiences in finding the diary. There was a certain sense of excitement and being in the moment that was engaging and made me want to come back for more. Even going into the diary, the writing had this fresh feel to it. Unfortunately, it leeched away the further I went, which was a shame because there were so many events in the diary I wanted more insight on from Koppel’s point of view.
Looking back, the way I see it is that something more should’ve been added to this book.
I read almost all of The Red Leather Diary believing that it was historical fiction, so I judged it on the basis of literary value and entertainment. In that sense, I wouldn’t recommend this to very many people, and what should’ve been added was either personal thoughts on Koppel’s part or artistic liberty to make the story flow.
However, this is actually nonfiction/biography, so a great way to add the something extra would be to study this book in the classroom setting. Granted, it’s not a traditional historical text, but in the context of a classroom, I could see The Red Leather Diary as reading material that’s educational and not terribly boring. The rebellious and sometimes shocking events of the book would make more sense, and the portrayal of the time period would round out.
Overall, The Read Leather Diary wasn’t what I expected. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I’d hoped, but it was a good look into a time period that I wasn’t familiar with and had explored little of in the literary world. 2 stars.