This article examines the Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş’s prison novel Leylan (2019) in relation to the Turkish tradition of Künstlerroman, which dates back to the late nineteenth century. Through a reading of the figure of the writer manqué, it argues that Demirtaş occupies an unprecedented place in having staged the writer manqué as a subaltern autodidact rather than as a troubled intellectual, in uniting the political and the transcendental, and in affirming the potential hidden in incomplete texts and lives.

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