Stories have a habit of generating stories. They come to nest, one inside the other, like Chinese boxes, each a window onto another’s world. This is what happened to my grandfather’s story about Joe Pawelka.
In the annals of New Zealand crime, the name Pawelka is practically synonymous with anarchy. The Pawelka manhunt was the most sensational news story of 1910, and the mystery of Pawelka’s escape from prison and subsequent disappearance has never been solved. Who was Joe Pawelka, and how might one explain the hold this self-styled “man against the world” has had on New Zealand’s collective consciousness? In recounting the story of this disaffected son of Moravian immigrants, Michael Jackson intercuts recollections of his own life in small town New Zealand, deftly creating an allegory about the ways in which the past shapes the present, and the known blurs with the imagined in shaping our sense of justice and truth.