The Trauma Cleaner
A fascinating, incredible true story about the person who spends her life cleaning up after traumas.Do you know who cleans up a murder scene? It's not the police or the paramedics. It's people like Sandra Pankhurst, a trauma cleaner for whom death and decay are a part of life. Sandra's trauma work includes crime scenes and floods, real estate agents, executors of deceased estates, and charitable organizations. All call on Sandra to deal with lonely deaths, suicides or cases of long-term property neglect, where homes have fallen into disrepute due to the occupier's mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, aging, or physical disability. Sandra comes to know her clients as well as they know themselves; she airs out their smells, throws out their weird porn, their photos, their letters, the last traces of their DNA entombed in soaps and toothbrushes. She does not, however, erase these people. She couldn't. She has experienced their same sorrows.This is the fascinating true story of what happens after disaster; what happens when the dust clears and all that's left is a mess to clean up? You call Sandra, who arrives to make order out of chaos.

The Trauma Cleaner Details

TitleThe Trauma Cleaner
Author
ReleaseApr 10th, 2018
PublisherSt. Martin's Press
ISBN-139781250101204
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Death, Biography

The Trauma Cleaner Review

  • Jaclyn Crupi
    January 1, 1970
    I hope I don't need a trauma cleaner in life or in death but if I do I hope I get one like Sandra Pankhurst. This is a unique Australian memoir; one where the author subtly inserts herself into the telling of a life not her own. Sandra is and has been so many things: trans, father, step-mother, husband, drag queen, sex worker, wife, businesswoman. She has experienced horrendous violence and many traumas and she has inflicted trauma on others, namely her wife and children. It can be hard to recon I hope I don't need a trauma cleaner in life or in death but if I do I hope I get one like Sandra Pankhurst. This is a unique Australian memoir; one where the author subtly inserts herself into the telling of a life not her own. Sandra is and has been so many things: trans, father, step-mother, husband, drag queen, sex worker, wife, businesswoman. She has experienced horrendous violence and many traumas and she has inflicted trauma on others, namely her wife and children. It can be hard to reconcile but this book beautifully explores the complexity of Sandra's life as well as the lives of some of her trauma cleaning clients.
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  • Michael Livingston
    January 1, 1970
    A brilliant portrait of an amazing person. Krasnostein stumbled across Sandra Pankhurst, a professional trauma cleaner with an incredible life story and has crafted a thoughtful, moving and sometimes hilarious biography. Chapters alternate between Sandra's life story and snippets of her current life (and the lives of the people that she's cleaning up after). It's a smart structure and Krasnostein is a sympathetic and sensitive biographer - this is a wonderful and original book that will hopefull A brilliant portrait of an amazing person. Krasnostein stumbled across Sandra Pankhurst, a professional trauma cleaner with an incredible life story and has crafted a thoughtful, moving and sometimes hilarious biography. Chapters alternate between Sandra's life story and snippets of her current life (and the lives of the people that she's cleaning up after). It's a smart structure and Krasnostein is a sympathetic and sensitive biographer - this is a wonderful and original book that will hopefully be a big success.
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  • Text Publishing
    January 1, 1970
    ‘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‘Amazing…I couldn’t put this book down, and I can’t wait to recommend it to e ‘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‘Amazing…I couldn’t put this book down, and I can’t wait to recommend it to everyone I know.’Readings‘Superbly sensitive…A truly unusual biography which is both confronting and edifying.’Toowoomba Chronicle‘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
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  • Ruth
    January 1, 1970
    This is definitely my pick of 2017Half the book is a fascinating account of the job of a trauma cleaner; the kind of jobs they do and the people that they meet. There are captivating interviews with their clients, particularly the hoarders at varying levels of denial. Sandra, the head of the company, is witting and saucy - a real character.The other half of the book is Sandra's back story. Sandra was born biologically a man. Her story is a fascinating account of what it was like to live as a tra This is definitely my pick of 2017Half the book is a fascinating account of the job of a trauma cleaner; the kind of jobs they do and the people that they meet. There are captivating interviews with their clients, particularly the hoarders at varying levels of denial. Sandra, the head of the company, is witting and saucy - a real character.The other half of the book is Sandra's back story. Sandra was born biologically a man. Her story is a fascinating account of what it was like to live as a transsexual in Melbourne through the 70s, 80s and 90s. Harrowing and captivating by turns, I feel like I learned so much and still have so many questions.Incredibly well executed, fast paced and frequently surprising. I couldn't put it down.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    Sometimes a book comes along that defies easy description. This is that book. Uplifting, heartbreaking, fascinating and uncomfortable in equal measure.
  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    This book. Wow.Harrowing. Courageous. Repulsive. Compelling. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. Fascinating.The Trauma Cleaner, like its star, Sandra Pankhurst, is genre-defying. Author Sarah Krasnostein shadowed Sandra over a number of years, observing her day-to-day activities and recording the story of her life before she was a cleaner. And that story is remarkable – Sandra was a husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, businesswoman, and trophy wife. As a ‘trauma cleaner’ This book. Wow.Harrowing. Courageous. Repulsive. Compelling. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. Fascinating.The Trauma Cleaner, like its star, Sandra Pankhurst, is genre-defying. Author Sarah Krasnostein shadowed Sandra over a number of years, observing her day-to-day activities and recording the story of her life before she was a cleaner. And that story is remarkable – Sandra was a husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, businesswoman, and trophy wife. As a ‘trauma cleaner’, Sandra cleans places others dare not go – homicide, suicide and death scenes; meth labs; homes of hoarders; and places ravaged by water, mould and filth.Sandra knows her clients as well as they know themselves; she airs out their smells, throws out their weird porn, their photos, their letters, the last traces of their DNA entombed in soaps and toothbrushes. She does not, however, erase these people. She couldn’t. She has experienced their same sorrows.It’s very much Sandra’s story but you never lose Krasnostein’s voice in its telling – specifically, her reaction to the messes and squalor Sandra faces every day; her compassion as she relays the trauma in Sandra’s personal life; and her deep admiration for a woman whose resilience is truly remarkable.Sandra’s personal story is far more traumatic than the crime scenes she cleans. She was born male and adopted to a family in Footscray, Melbourne. Her adopted father was a violent alcoholic and both parents were physically and emotionally abusive. Sandra (then known as Peter) was forced to live in a shed in the back yard while the rest of the family (his adopted parents and their biological children) lived in the house.In the taxonomy of pain there is only the pain inflicted by touching and the pain inflicted by not touching. Peter grew up an expert in both.After leaving home, she met Linda, who she married and had children with. However, being the ‘family man’ was not compatible with her discovery of the gay and trans communities and what followed was life as a drag queen, sex worker and gender reassignment patient.What Krasnostein does remarkably well is show how the life of Sandra as she once was intersects with the work she does today. Sandra is commanding but compassionate; she gets the job done yet is gentle with her clients, addressing the pain of people who are broken, alone, and frightened in a practical but caring way – little do her clients know how familiar their neglect and despair is to her.Her work, in short, is a catalogue of the ways we die physically and emotionally, and the strength and delicacy needed to lift the things we leave behind.In describing the piles of rubbish, the stench of human remains, the feel of walls made soft by mould, and the filthy yellowed mattress of a sex offender, Krasnostein writes simply, elegantly and with an appropriate level of incredulous humour. During a conversation with a hoarder, Krasnostein muses –I want to explain about my dark room and shaking hands and how the road back starts in thick forest. But I realise that such a conversation will never be possible because we are dwarfed by this gargantuan smell of shit and because, to one of us, it is a question of inadequate storage.Being aware of the author’s position – one of deep admiration and a little bit of awe; curious but always respectful – throughout Sandra’s story is what sets The Trauma Cleaner apart from your average biography. The result is remarkable.4/5 Unforgettable.Thank you to Text Publishing (via Goodreads) for my copy of The Trauma Cleaner.
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  • Zora
    January 1, 1970
    Best to go into this not knowing much, as its power comes from an author absolutely committed to capturing her subject and the worlds in which she moves and has moved. It says a lot that this book could have been truly awful and sensational, and it is absolutely not.
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  • Ivana Dawe
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you Sandra Pankhurst for sharing your amazing journey . Thought I was reading a story about the life of a trauma cleaner and got soooooo much more! Beautifully written , lots of sadness, love and compassion. My beast read for 2017 ❤ Thank you Sandra Pankhurst for sharing your amazing journey . Thought I was reading a story about the life of a trauma cleaner and got soooooo much more! Beautifully written , lots of sadness, love and compassion. My beast read for 2017 ❤️
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  • Kat
    January 1, 1970
    Too exceptional for words, will come back & write a review later.
  • Kay
    January 1, 1970
    While I thought the book was very interesting, the ending wasn't satisfying. I would have liked to know how Sandra's health is now, and whether she is still working. Thank you to St. Martin's Press, author and Netgalley for the chance to read this book.While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
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  • Bram
    January 1, 1970
    A life-affirming symphony composed of notes plucked from the detritus of everyday existence. Deeply humane in its execution, Sandra's story will move you, challenge you and continually delight you.
  • Romany
    January 1, 1970
    This book deserves a million stars. To think this incredible woman’s story might have gone untold! And that all the smaller stories of the people who had died and who were burying themselves might also have gone unnoticed... it’s a miracle of a book. It’s also heartbreaking, and a list of all the ways people mistreat each other. But Sandra just shines.
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  • Sunshine
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARE of this book on NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions/thoughts expressed are my own. Four and a half stars!I would put a quick trigger warning on this book as it does feature an explicit content rape scene, child abuse, extreme hoarding conditions (filth hoarding, animal, etc.) suicide, murder, transgender issues, and prostitution. If you are unable to handle reading about these topics from an emotional or psychological level, plea I received an ARE of this book on NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions/thoughts expressed are my own. Four and a half stars!I would put a quick trigger warning on this book as it does feature an explicit content rape scene, child abuse, extreme hoarding conditions (filth hoarding, animal, etc.) suicide, murder, transgender issues, and prostitution. If you are unable to handle reading about these topics from an emotional or psychological level, please remember to take care of your mental health and come to this when you feel you are able to handle it.This novel was written with compassion and dignity.In reading this, I felt like Sarah was like John Watson and Sandra was like her Sherlock Holmes. She was written about, flaws and all, with such respect and aplomb that it was evident that Sarah admires Sandra for her strength of will and tenacity.Sandra has dealt with a lot of trauma, her own as well as her clients, and Sandra herself was born a male. From being adopted into an abusive home to getting married as an adult to a woman that he felt helped him to "live normally" he then fathered two sons. He knows he wants to be a female and undergoes a lot to get there.The story switches between the clients and their cases and Sandra and her life up until then.This was a fascinating and inspiring read and I would *highly* recommend this one for anyone who wants to read an inspirational novel that all too well portrays what it is like to go through traumas and come out the other side still fighting.Read about other books I have reviewed here:Blog
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  • Caren
    January 1, 1970
    A must read! Literally unputdownable. This exploration of the strength of Sandra Pankhurst's resilience and dedication to return dignity to her "clients" is mesmerising. Pankhurst's survival of a childhood of unspeakable abuse and her journey towards becoming the woman she felt destined to become are conveyed by the author with exceptional skill and respect. Sarah Krasnostein was on her way to becoming a writer in Year 12, when I had the privilege of teaching her; her first book is a masterful c A must read! Literally unputdownable. This exploration of the strength of Sandra Pankhurst's resilience and dedication to return dignity to her "clients" is mesmerising. Pankhurst's survival of a childhood of unspeakable abuse and her journey towards becoming the woman she felt destined to become are conveyed by the author with exceptional skill and respect. Sarah Krasnostein was on her way to becoming a writer in Year 12, when I had the privilege of teaching her; her first book is a masterful combination of research and humanity. The desperate, often mentally ill clients whose lives are touched by Pankhurst make us realise "how strong we are when we are loved" and, emphatically, what happens to those who are not. Without judgement, Krasnostein took me into a world I had never seen from the inside, as well as opening herself up to reveal her own vulnerability.
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  • Vnunez-Ms_luv2read
    January 1, 1970
    I am very iinterested in anything about the trauma cleanup. This book did open my eyes to the cleaning of differnt types, ie: drug overdose, etc. The book was an ok read. I would have liked to read more about the actual clean-ups and less about the author's life as a transgender. The book also goes into details about his life as a man, marriage , children, etc. The books title leads you to believe that the book is about trauma cleaning. Yes, the book was about that, but to me focused more on he I am very iinterested in anything about the trauma cleanup. This book did open my eyes to the cleaning of differnt types, ie: drug overdose, etc. The book was an ok read. I would have liked to read more about the actual clean-ups and less about the author's life as a transgender. The book also goes into details about his life as a man, marriage , children, etc. The books title leads you to believe that the book is about trauma cleaning. Yes, the book was about that, but to me focused more on her life. Yes, Sandra Pankhurst has had a rough life, and i applaud her for keeping on, but if I wanted to read her life story, I think that should have been a seperate book. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the ARC of this book in return for my honest review.
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  • Jules
    January 1, 1970
    Sandra's life has been stranger than fiction and Sarah Krasnostien writes it beautifully. Sandra is a fascinating character who has experienced so much; in turn, this book is more than a biography, it is a lesson in Melbourne's queer history, an intimate look at the very real ways mental health issues sometimes manifest and a case study of domestic violence, family breakdown and intergenerational trauma.Sandra has clearly inspired the author both creatively and personally; I'm sure her story of Sandra's life has been stranger than fiction and Sarah Krasnostien writes it beautifully. Sandra is a fascinating character who has experienced so much; in turn, this book is more than a biography, it is a lesson in Melbourne's queer history, an intimate look at the very real ways mental health issues sometimes manifest and a case study of domestic violence, family breakdown and intergenerational trauma.Sandra has clearly inspired the author both creatively and personally; I'm sure her story of resilience and non-judgmental outlook on life will similarly inspire readers to practice empathy and keep on keeping on. It speaks to both women that one is able to read a book filled with trauma and not only laugh along the way but finish it feeling optimistic; quite a feat!
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  • Cee Davis
    January 1, 1970
    I think I loved the idea of this book more than I actually loved reading it. Don't get me wrong, it was quirky and interesting - and at times disturbing - all of which I was hoping for, but I just felt this kind of disconnect with the Sandra. And, if I'm totally honest, I wanted to know more about some of the strange cases she's worked. I felt like there was a little too much of the hoarding jobs and not enough of the other kinds of trauma jobs in there. I also found Sandra incredibly frustratin I think I loved the idea of this book more than I actually loved reading it. Don't get me wrong, it was quirky and interesting - and at times disturbing - all of which I was hoping for, but I just felt this kind of disconnect with the Sandra. And, if I'm totally honest, I wanted to know more about some of the strange cases she's worked. I felt like there was a little too much of the hoarding jobs and not enough of the other kinds of trauma jobs in there. I also found Sandra incredibly frustrating at times and had to take a step away from reading. I would give it 3.5 stars and would definitely recommend anyone read it, even if it was just to shed some light on another way of life.
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  • Linda Curran
    January 1, 1970
    If there is an award category for this type of book this one deserves book of the year..my Grandmother was a hoarder and memories of what it took us to clean her house up came flooding back but I also have more of an understanding now after reading this book and the trauma in her life that led her to live like this...mingled with Sandras incredible life..i laughed and actually cried at the end..thank you for an incredible story.
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  • Sheryl
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book through giveaways.I didn't finish this book, I may come back to it. I was curious to know what a trauma cleaner did but found the descriptions of "death, decay and disaster" unpleasant. I am a visual person and the scenes this book conjures up are not for me at present.
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  • Katharine (Ventureadlaxre)
    January 1, 1970
    Very excellent read.
  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    FascinatingThought it may be gruesome. It was...but it was way more than that. A brilliantly written story about a fascinating indvidual.
  • Ellen
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a stunning biography wrapped up in the disguise of an unusual profession. This clever format allows the story within to sneak under your skin. And lord, is it a story.
  • Tim
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent book. Possibly my favourite of 2017.
  • Madeleine Griffeth
    January 1, 1970
    Not only is this book extraordinarily compassionate, but it is also exceptionally well-written. I would leap on anything else from this author, Sarah Krasnostein.
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