It’s hard for me, Anna said. I could tell your mother anything.

You can tell me anything, too, I said.

No, you’re a man. It’s different. Yeah, I can tell you. But listening. You don’t hear what your mother heard.

– THE MATHEMATICIAN’S SHIVA by Stuart Rojstaczer


Elizabeth Gaskell

An icon of 19th century English literature, North and South is in some ways an Industrial Revolution take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Margaret Hale, forced to move from the south to the town of Milton in the industrial north, is prejudiced against the “merchant” culture, particularly in the form of the mill owner, John Thornton. He, on the other hand, is justifiably proud of his station and wealth. His formidable mother, Mrs. Hannah Thornton, is aggressively proud of her son’s success and mistrusts Margaret’s “southern” ways. She feels, and rightly so, that the young woman does not appreciate the hardships they faced when her husband, his father, left them bankrupt after committing suicide. Yet, for her son’s sake, Mrs. Thornton puts aside her own interests and accepts the young woman as his choice. A gritty portrait of the classic “mother bear”.


Stuart Rojstaczer

Rachela Karnokovitch is the eponymous mathematician whose shiva is entertainingly described by her son, Sasha.  There is a rumor among her peers that before her death she solved a mathematical problem with a million dollar prize and hid the proof in her house. When the mathematicians come to sit shiva with Sasha, they are determined to find out the truth. Interspersed with their hijinks are chapters from Rachela’s poignant memoir, “ A Lifetime in Mathematics”. Sasha’s love and admiration for his mother shine throughout the novel.


Vanessa Diffenbaugh

In a tale of relationships and communication, Victoria is eighteen and emancipated from the California foster care system. With little education and no support, Victoria begins her life as an independent adult living on the street. The only skill she can translate into a job opportunity is the Victorian “language of flowers”, taught to her by her single foster-mother, Elizabeth. Their time together ends disastrously after one year, but literally saves Victoria’s life.


Debra Adelaide

Delia Bennet, author of “The Household Guide To” series, has terminal cancer. Columnist, mother, wife, Delia threads these roles into a lively narrative that will be her last “Household Guide”. Examples: Delia has a coffin (she won’t call it a casket) delivered to the house before she dies for her daughters and husband to decorate; she spends days cooking to stock the freezer with family-favourite dishes.  Delia deconstructs the process of death for her daughters, at the same time reconciling herself with the loss of her son many years earlier. A fine read from Australian author Debra Adelaide.


Josh Malerman

In this debut novel, dedicated to his mother, Josh Malerman creates a post-apocalyptic world where humans cannot go outside: an adversary exists whose appearance drives anyone who can see to a violent paranoia resulting in grisly suicide.  Young single mother Malorie, alone with two children and running out of supplies, must escape to a refuge twenty miles downriver blindfolded. One of the most frightening campfire stories ever, with a mother in the starring role.

Perhaps you can think of more overlooked “best” mothers in literature?  Please share them in the comments below.

Image Credit: State Library of New South Whales