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The Trauma Cleaner

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster

Sarah Krasnostein

  • awardWinner, Victorian Prize for Literature, 2018
  • awardWinner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, 2018
  • awardWinner, ABIA General Non-Fiction Book of the Year, 2018
  • awardWinner, ABDA Designers' Choice: Cover of the Year: W. H. Chong, 2018
  • awardWinner, Dobbie Literary Award for a first time published author, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, Indie Book Award for Non-fiction, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, Melbourne Prize for Literature: Best Writing Award, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, ABDA Best Designed Autobiography/Biography/Memoir Non-Fiction Cover, W. H. Chong, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, Nib Waverley Library Award, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, Sisters in Crime's 18th Davitt Awards: Nonfiction, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, Sisters in Crime's 18th Davitt Awards: Debut, 2018
  • awardCommended, Institute of Professional Editors in Victoria, 2018
  • awardLonglisted, Walkley Book Award, The Walkley Foundation, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, Wellcome Book Prize, United Kingdom, 2019
  • awardJoint winner, Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2019
  • awardShortlisted, National Biography Award, 2019
  • 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.

    Read an extract in the Australian


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    Q&A with Sarah Krasnostein on the Feminist Writers Festival blog


    Pool, ‘This Week We’re Reading’ 
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    : Best True Crime Books of 2018 (#3)

    Age: ‘I think she would have liked it’: Trauma Cleaner doco set to debut in Melbourne    
    Read an extract from The Trauma Cleaner on the Lenny, Lit Thursday website 
    Sydney Morning Herald feature on the 2018 ABIA Matt Richell Award Shortlistees 
    ABC iView recaps Sarah Krasnostein moderating the 2018 Sydney Writers Festival panel, ‘Resisting Unjust Authority’. 

    Sarah Krasnostein
    About the Author

    Sarah Krasnostein is a multi-award winning writer and critic. She is the best-selling author of The Trauma Cleaner, The Believer and the Quarterly Essay, Not Waving, Drowning (2022). She has a doctorate in criminal law and is admitted to legal practice in New York and Victoria. Sarah has been awarded the Victorian Prize for Literature, the...

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    1 October 2019
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    Praise for Sarah Krasnostein
    andThe Trauma Cleaner

    ‘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.’

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

    ‘Superbly sensitive…A truly unusual biography which is both confronting and edifying.’

    ‘Within the pages of The Trauma Cleaner Krasnostein has given us an extraordinary gift of humanity, life, and determination while carefully guiding us through the unspeakable conditions in which people find themselves in the face of trauma. Through sublime writing, Sarah Krasnostein expertly renders an unforgettable portrait of Sandra, one of the most compelling people I have ever read. I found myself constantly walking the line between frustration and utter love for this woman and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her and the life she has lived. Krasnostein is a master storyteller of creative non-fiction and I am in awe.’

    ‘An extraordinary life story superbly retold.’

    ‘A truly remarkable story.’

    ‘The most original non-fiction book of the year…Written with warmth, humour and sensitivity, The Trauma Cleaner is utterly fascinating.’

    ‘Krasnostein’s playful yet heartfelt debut is one of the most arresting works of biography you will read in a long time.’

    ‘Krasnostein is an astute observer of human nature and her understated yet elegant prose is reminiscent of Helen Garner.’

    ’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.’

    ‘Surely the most original non-fiction book of the year…Written with warmth, humour and sensitivity, The Trauma Cleaner is utterly fascinating.’

    ‘A wondrous portrait of an inspiring character.’

    ‘Sandra Pankurst’s life is a Netflix series waiting to happen…Krasnostein is a marvelous, sympathetic observer and narrator…Love, love, love this book.’

    ‘[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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘[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.’

    ‘[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.’

    ‘Krasnostein creates a humane portrait of a woman who 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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘Compelling, compassionate, questioning and fascinating enough for at least four sequels—the reasons you finishing reading may not be the reasons you started. Stunning.’

    ‘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 sites of sadness and horror that take the reader straight to the dark heart of the human condition.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    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.’

    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.’

    ‘Deep empathy for complex individuals…Explore[s] the best and worst of who we are.’

    ‘The remarkable story of super cleaner Sandra Pankhurst who cleans up crimes and squalor with rare compassion and kindness.’

    ‘Deeply moving…The book reads as a love letter from Krasnostein to Sandra…I treasured every word.’

    ‘A book that is as hard to read as it is hard to put down. A story of pain and loss and loneliness, of trauma and transformations and sassy humour. And cleaning…It is a hilarious and poignant tale of a woman who defies all labels…Krasnostein is a very fine writer. Her debut book is a compelling and honest story of human survival, and love.’

    ‘Sarah Krasnostein has written the story of her friend Sandra in a respectful way, detailing every reinvention Sandra made in her personal and professional endeavours. Readers will find Sandra’s story emotional, shocking and triumphant. It is the true story of a remarkable and resilient human being.’

    ‘Sarah Krasnostein’s writing is warm and curious. And, carefully, it draws a portrait of Pankhurst you’ll remember long after you’ve finished reading—a woman who is quietly, wonderfully triumphant while standing at the middle and centre of despair.’

    ‘ [A] one-of-a-kind biography.’

    ‘Through countless encounters with the fetid, the neglected, and the downright tragic, Pankhurst has found meaning and peace, and [author] Krasnostein a singular subject whom she approaches with well-deserved awe.’

    ‘Intriguing…A complex protagonist makes for engaging material.’

    ‘Pankhurst is an engaging, sympathetic, and fascinating person, and Krasnostein does an excellent job of balancing Pankhurst’s personal story with those of her clients.’

    ‘Absolutely stunning.’

    ‘A monumental biography of a singular and unforgettable woman.’

    ‘This book sums up what I look for in a book: relatability and the simpleness and the spectacular-ness of the human existence.’

    Other editions ofThe Trauma Cleaner
    • The Trauma Cleaner
      ISBN: 9781925410761
      2 October 2017
      Buy ebook
    Other Titles bySarah Krasnostein