This essay examines the ambivalent relationships between American soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and their unit interpreters in recent fictional works by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, Luke Mogelson, and Will Mackin. In these works, the interpreter characters often occupy the liminal space between who is a friend and who is an enemy, serving as an ally to American military units while also reflecting projections of soldiers’ assumptions about the enemy in relation to themselves. Most prominent in encounters with ‘terps’ are the discursive tactics employed intentionally and institutionally as boundaries by American forces that attempt to keep terps ‘othered’—particularly tactics that prevent terps from exhibiting idealized American masculinity, and those of Islamophobic racism. The three terps in the study point to a rupture in the optimistic views about multiculturalism, where the terp translates an awareness of a cultural chasm instead of a bridge. In fictional narratives, more than finding agency in crossing boundaries, terps are fundamental in signifying where boundaries exist as they are caught in their interstices, as well as in critiquing the sources of those boundaries.
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