Burn Your Maps Short Story Summary

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

Robyn Joy Leff's story ''Burn Your Maps'' takes a few interesting and confusing twists and turns. In this lesson we'll break it down and summarize the events. Dive in to find out what the story is all about.

Burn Your Maps

The short story ''Burn Your Maps'' by Robyn Joy Leff follows the journey of a family as they cope with their son's odd behavior, a possible blossoming affair, and a nagging health issue. This story reflects real life in that not all of these issues are resolved. Let's take a look at the events in the story.

Halloween Leftovers

''Burn Your Maps'' starts off by describing how the narrator's son, Wes, is still wearing his Halloween costume even though it's six days past the holiday. The costume is that of a Mongolian nomad. The narrator, Alise, is only somewhat worried, while Wes's father, Connor, is pretty annoyed by the situation and starts to get angry. Alise explains to Connor that ''a fledgling imagination is at stake here'' and they ''can't just crush it.'' Connor tells her to ask one of her ''freaky child-psych friends'' about it. Our narrator responds by saying that her brother thought he was Spiderman for a month before breaking his leg and realizing he wasn't.


The two go back and forth about who is to blame for their son's behavior, and then the narrator heads to work. She is an English as a Second Language teacher. She reflects on how she has burnt out in the past few years, but this year she has a favorite student: a man named Ismail from Pakistan. At the beginning of the year, she asked her students to write advice to new immigrants. There were silly answers, and then there was Ismail's writing. His advice was to ''Throw out all maps. Rip them from your books. Rip them from your heart.' At the end of his response, he writes ''Throw out all your maps. Burn them.'' This response stops the narrator in her tracks.

Alise makes some time to speak with Ismail and finds that he wants to open a coffee shop in America. The two begin to talk more often, and Alise evens tells him about Wes and Connor. She doesn't press him about his own family though. Eventually she asks him about them, and he says that he has kids but that they don't live with him. She explains the Mongolian problem with Wes and that her husband is mad. The two laugh about it. Alise wonders if their relationship isn't ''some previously undiscovered form of love.''

The Costume Continues

Later on, Alise heads home and decides to indulge Wes in some of his Mongolia play. She asks him how it was in Mongolia today and explains that Mongolians live on the Steppe--not the steps of a house which is where Wes asks to sleep for the night. Later on, Alise and Connor have an argument in bed with Alise saying that Wes is much like Connor's father because he likes to tell stories. Connor doesn't seem to want to talk about his dad. Alise gets emotional and thinks about how distant she feels from her husband and from the world. The next morning, Wes is still dressed like a Mongolian, and Connor is still angry. Alise heads to school to meet with students who scheduled a meeting with her. She assumes Ismail will be there waiting.

A Close Call

When he doesn't show up, she thinks about how life never turns out as expected and also worries about how her husband has lost weight and been having stomach problems. When Ismail does show up, he is upset because his son has been arrested in Pakistan. The two have a flirty fight where they throw small items at each other and then embrace one another but do not go further than that.

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