Michel Estrada. Latina Instinct. Translated by Robert Nasatir. ISBN: 978-0-915745-71-5. $24.95.
In Michel Estrada's Latina Instinct, Carmen leaves her modest life in rural Pinar del Río to attend the University of Havana. When she gets there, she confronts the harsh reality of contemporary Cuban life. Latina Instinct is an exceptional document of daily life in today's Havana, faithfully recording the challenging existence of university students struggling to make the grade. Before she can learn from her trials, Carmen must mature amidst the dangerous and complex streets of Havana. Michele Estrada's novel offers the first honest and riveting glance to present-day Cuban urban life. She attends the University to study computer science but the politics of academic life and the demands of school are quickly upstaged by the excitement and danger of Havana. She rooms with a group of experienced students who teach her how to get along: studious Paula, playful Dunia, naïve Monica, and Lili, the free-spirit. And the men in Carmen’s life are equally important: Arturo, the womanizing fifth-year student, and Sebastián, the debonair Spanish businessman. When Carmen first meets them, she is gullible, but each teaches her a valuable lesson by example, and they are not always good examples. She learns about survival, both at school and in the city, but the most important lessons are those that she can only learn on her own. Over the course of a year, Carmen encounters good and bad relationships, short-lived and lasting friendships. Her innocence leads her into difficult situations, but her wits, and a little luck, get her out of them. Along the way, Carmen changes from an innocent country girl thrown into the big city to an experienced and savvy young woman equipped to face the challenges of present-day Cuba.