The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

The Trauma Cleaner

By Sarah Krasnostein

  • Release Date: 2017-10-02
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 4.5
From 60 Ratings
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Winner, The 2018 Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction

Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife…
But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less. 
A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his loungeroom. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.
Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead—and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.
Sarah Krasnostein was born in America, studied in Melbourne and has lived and worked in both countries. Earning her doctorate in criminal law, she is a law lecturer and researcher. Her essay, ‘The Secret Life of a Crime Scene Cleaner’, was published on Longreads and listed in Narratively’s Top 10 Stories for 2014. She lives in Melbourne, and spends part of the year working in New York City. The Trauma Cleaner is her first book.

‘Amazing…I couldn’t put this book down, and I can’t wait to recommend it to everyone I know.’ Readings

‘Written with sensitivity, insight and warmth…Krasnostein has pieced together a compelling history through careful research and interviews. The Trauma Cleaner is no ordinary trauma narrative: we see how the infliction of multiple traumas has left this fascinating woman uniquely placed to restore order among the despair of others, and it is with similar care that Krasnostein has produced this book.’ Books + Publishing
‘This is a book which resists the temptation to fill in the gaps. In that sense, it enacts trauma itself. Krasnostein doesn’t try and insist that all the details of these complex lives add up – she merely describes them vividly, lovingly and respectfully to make a single statement: this is a life.’ Judges’ Report, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2018
‘An extraordinary life story superbly retold.’ Tim Gott, Devonport Bookshop
‘It’s a truly remarkable story.’ Joan Mackenzie, Whitcoulls
‘The most original non-fiction book of the year…Written with warmth, humour and sensitivity, The Trauma Cleaner is utterly fascinating.’ Page & Blackmore Booksellers
‘Krasnostein’s playful yet heartfelt debut is one of the most arresting works of biography you will read in a long time.’ Guardian
‘Krasnostein is an astute observer of human nature and her understated yet elegant prose is reminiscent of Helen Garner.’ Readings
’Krasnostein has done a clean-up of her own, untangling the narrative behind Pankhurst’s own cluttered memories…She lets Pankhurst’s courage, humanity and sheer decency shine through. It’s a fascinating read.’ SA Weekend
‘Surely the most original non-fiction book of the year…Written with warmth, humour and sensitivity, The Trauma Cleaner is utterly fascinating.’ Page & Blackmore NZ
‘A wondrous portrait of an inspiring character.’ Saturday Paper
‘[Sandra] is one of the most extraordinary characters you will ever find in a work of non-fiction…The Trauma Cleaner is a disturbing and fascinating read with a heavy, beating heart at its centre…[Krasnostein] shows how a writer can empathise and engage with a subject yet still paint a realistic portrait.’ Australian
‘An anomalous, indelible treasure…Krasnostein allows Sandra’s story room to breathe and expand, to quietly but confidently stake its claim to the reader’s heart.’ Kill Your Darlings
‘[Pankurst’s] story is probably one of the most touching, thoughtful and thought-provoking you will ever read…Sarah Krasnostein tells it with moving compassion, even love.’ New Zealand Herald 
‘Krasnostein creates a humane portrait of a woman has somehow found fertile ground in the mess of life. A brutal, heartbreaking and utterly moving story of survival – and a quiet kind of triumph.’ Better Reading
‘An extraordinarily impressive debut, in terms of both quality of writing and treatment of the subject matter…Krasnostein handles her material with respect, grace and compassion.’ Sydney Morning Herald
‘Sarah Krasnostein does a marvellous job of illuminating Sandra Pankhurst the person…it’s the vignettes of Pankhurst’s early life and upbringing in Melbourne, interspersed throughout the book, that make for compelling reading.’Readings Best Non-Fiction 2017
‘Compelling reading...This book reads like an unabashed love letter to Pankhurst with the first-time author, embedded for years in her subject’s life, effusive in her adoration.’ Courier-Mail
‘Compelling, compassionate, questioning and fascinating enough for at least four sequels—the reasons you finishing reading may not be the reasons you started. Stunning.’ Fullers Bookshop
A superbly written book about the re-doutbable Sandra Pankhurst and her work as a trauma cleaner…This is the startling life story of Pankhurst, a trans woman with a heart the size of Uluru, written in Krasnostein’s irresistibly warm, frank, intelligent voice as she describes site of sadness and horror that take the reader straight to the dark heart of the human condition.’ Kerryn Goldsworthy, Best Books of 2017, Australian Book Review

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein is hard to describe, but will delight anyone who reads it – it is that good…The stories of the hoarders and Sandra’s compassion when dealing with them that will have you transfixed. Promise.’ InDaily 
‘Deep empathy for complex individuals…Explore[s] the best and worst of who we are.’ Graeme Simsion, Sydney Morning Herald’s Year in Reading 2017
‘The remarkable story of super cleaner Sandra Pankhurst who cleans up crimes and squalor with rare compassion and kindness.’ Adelaide Advertiser, Favourite Books of the Year 
‘One of the strangest, most fascinating books I’ve read, and a standout of the year. Krasnostein’s command of language is exquisite, and the complexity of Sandra Pankhurst’s life story unfolds seamlessly with the current-day narrative of her unique business and the people she meets with it.’ Feminist Writers Festival, Favourite Reads of 2017 
The Trauma Cleaner pays tribute to a person who's an absolute life force even among the death and decay and squalor and stench that she works in every day and the crushing difficulties of her own past. And it's a story told more beautifully than you can possibly imagine.’ Radio National, 2017’s Best Summer Reads


  • The Trauma Cleaner

    By Whizzmerlin
    Written with compassion and empathy, it is told as it truly is. This book is revealing, intriguing, eye popping - fascinating. The reader is taken on the life adventure of Peter who becomes Sandra who is a ‘trauma cleaner’, who puts back together peoples fractured lives.
  • Speechless. Amazing.

    By messyjessy397
    This book is perfection. Not at all what I expected but in the best possible way. Each page breaks your heart but bolsters your soul and weaves many lifetimes worth of grit into one woman’s remarkable story. This narrative is exactly what it needs to be. Perfection.
  • Exceptional

    By Dancingshoes3000
    Simply stunning.
  • The Trauma Cleaner

    By lizbelleashton
    This book is so worth reading. I've been a constant reader for over sixty years and this is the first time I'm bothering to recommend a book. Read it, it's well written and worth your time, as is Sandra. Liz Forsyth
  • Interesting

    By Lmjg545
    Was an interesting and insightful read. Missing in some parts but still enjoyable.
  • The Trauma Cleaner

    By BobMctavish
    I adored this book. It's elegantly written and dripping with human "realness" - congratulations and thanks to both Sarah and Sandra for sharing this wonderful story with us in ReaderLand