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Once Two Heroes


Once Two Heroes

Two men from very different backgrounds come together under
terrible circumstances in ONCE TWO HEROES, Calvin Baker's second
novel. As he did his debut novel, NAMING THE NEW WORLD, Baker again
explores the experiences of Black Americans. However, in ONCE TWO
HEROES, Baker chooses to focus on two main characters --- Mather
Rose, a black American raised in France and Lewis Hampton, a white
man born and raised in the Deep South. Baker develops each
character by writing two separate stories, one devoted to each man,
with a prologue for each section that helps introduce the main

The first prologue takes us to Thanksgiving 1946. Mather Rose is
driving across the country headed for California in an almost-brand
new car. He is in the middle of nowhere in the state of Mississippi
and stops at a gas station to fill up his beautiful Zephyr. Out
comes a young black boy, who helps take care of the car and does
some small talk with the war hero. Mather is nervous, since he
knows that being a black man by himself in the middle of the Deep
South is asking for trouble, but the young boy with his idle
chatter eases Mather's mind and he soon relaxes. Frankie, the young
boy at the gas station, notices the medals pinned all over Mather's
shirt and is in total awe. Surely, Mather Rose is some type of war

Mather is looking for a place to stay, so Frankie runs inside the
station to ask his boss, Nathan Hampton, for help and to show him
the one-dollar tip he had been given by this WWII hero. Nathan
takes the tip from the boy and goes outside to see for himself what
is going on. When he sees that Mather is black, Nathan's attitude
immediately changes. What happens next is a turning point for both
Mather and Nathan --- there is no turning back.

We now move back in time to 1940. Mather Rose has just arrived in
America. Mather's new life in California revolves around his
father's family. He gets to know his cousins and aunts and uncles,
starts work in the family business and meets his future wife. World
War II soon begins.

Mather's parents are still in Paris. They die while trying to
escape to America and Mather decides to enlist, even though the
United States has yet to join in the fight. But soon after, they
hear news of Pearl Harbor and everything has changed. Mather goes
against his family's wishes, but they are proud that he has the
conviction to fight for his country.

After a few years in Europe, the war is over and Mather returns as
a decorated war hero. He comes home to his family and his children
but then realizes that he needs to return to Washington to retrieve
his Medal of Honor, which he never received. It is on his journey
back to California from D.C. that he stops along the way to get gas
in the middle of Mississippi.

We then move to the second half of the book, to the story of Lewis
Hampton. Lewis Hampton's background is one of racial segregation.
When he goes to Europe to fight in World War II, he finds himself
in the midst of men of all races. While at first it bothers him, he
learns to get used to it. There are hints of racial prejudice in
little things he says and does. Lewis often refers to some of the
others as Northerners, clearly separating himself from them because
he is from the South. He is reminded that they are all Americans,
but deep down Lewis feels great pride in being a Southerner. As
with Mather, the reader gets to know Lewis on an intimate basis.
And, like Mather, Lewis is a family man who eventually gets married
and works for his wife's father. Pride in family and being a
Southerner is a big part of Lewis' life. And, although Mather and
Lewis are from two totally different backgrounds, they do share the
same pride and love for their families. But pride can be
destructive, as the reader will soon find out.

ONCE TWO HEROES is about two men, racial prejudices and pride in
family and in one's ethnic background. But it's also about what
happens when two different worlds meet in a time when one did not
dare cross over racial boundaries. It is an important novel that
should not be dismissed.

Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton, on January 22, 2011

Once Two Heroes
by Calvin Baker

  • Publication Date: January 27, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • ISBN-10: 067003164X
  • ISBN-13: 9780670031641