From 1929 to 1934, Florence Wolfson faithfully recorded the details of her life in a diary she received on her 14th birthday - and what a life it was. A precocious, exquisitely attired Manhattanite with an artistic bent, Florence took advantage of every opportunity for adventure, sometimes flirting with scandal. She frequented the Metropolitan Museum of Art, newly opened in 1929; saw live performances by actresses Helen Hayes, Katherine Cornell, Lynn Fontaine and Eva La Gallienne. She had a copy of the banned Ulysses and read Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga novels as they were published. Among her classmates at Hunter College, where she edited the literary magazine, were Joy Davidman (whose marriage to C.S. Lewis was chronicled in Shadowlands) and Bel Kaufman, who recalled "a young woman who used to appear in class in fawn-colored riding breeches. . . . How I envied those riding breeches and the exotic life she lived." That life is presented in cinematic scope in Lily Koppel's The Red Leather Diary.
Koppel, a New York Times reporter, came across Florence's diary in 2003, when she happened upon a Dumpster loaded with old trunks, vintage clothing and other unclaimed items from the recesses of her building, where Florence had once lived. Intrigued, Koppel tracked her down with the help of a 1930s-fascinated lawyer-turned-detective.
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, but not immune to the effects of the Depression and later the coming of world war.