The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster

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...

Title:The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster
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The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster Reviews

  • Text Publishing

    The Trauma Cleaner

    The Trauma Cleaner

    The Trauma Cleaner

    The Trauma Cleaner

  • Ruth

    This is definitely my pick of 2017

    Half 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 2017

    Half 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.

  • Karen

    Sometimes a book comes along that defies easy description. This is that book. Uplifting, heartbreaking, fascinating and uncomfortable in equal measure.

  • Kate

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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 –

    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.

  • Jaclyn Crupi

    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.

  • Tanyia

    What an unusual and extraordinary life, beautifully told by Krasnostein. Just loved this.

  • Romany

    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.

  • Michael Livingston

    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.

  • Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘We specialise in the unpleasant tasks that you need to have taken care of.’

    Sandra Pankhurst is a trauma cleaner. It’s work that she’s been doing for twenty years: at crime scenes, after floods, for real estate agents, for charitable organizations and for executors of deceased estates. Sandra also cleans for individuals, in cases of long-term neglect where health issues or hoarding have rendered homes barely habitable or worse.

    Sarah Krasnostein writes about trauma and its impacts on two levels.

    ‘We specialise in the unpleasant tasks that you need to have taken care of.’

    Sandra Pankhurst is a trauma cleaner. It’s work that she’s been doing for twenty years: at crime scenes, after floods, for real estate agents, for charitable organizations and for executors of deceased estates. Sandra also cleans for individuals, in cases of long-term neglect where health issues or hoarding have rendered homes barely habitable or worse.

    Sarah Krasnostein writes about trauma and its impacts on two levels. In between chapters about some of the client work Sarah has accompanied Sandra on, there are elements of Sandra Pankhurst’s own extraordinary life. Reading this book, I was filled with admiration for what Sandra has achieved in her life given the challenges she has faced. These challenges include adoption and then rejection. While trying to find a place in the world, Sandra married as a man, fathered children, and then left partner and sons behind. Transitioning from male to female has its own challenges, and Sandra has learned a lot about belonging, loss and rejection. No summary I can attempt here will do justice to Sandra’s life and achievements or to the difficulties she has faced.

    And yet, perhaps because of these challenges Sandra is able to assist people who’ve lost order in their lives to find new beginnings. She does this by listening to those she cleans for, by treating them with dignity and respect, by helping them create order. For some clients, she’s done this more than once.

    ‘This could be no one else’s office: it radiates the charisma of Pankhurst. Her corporate motto— Excellence is no accident— ‘hits your face as soon as you walk in’; is painted in white curling script directly onto a cherry-red feature wall and decoratively framed in white.’

    I picked up this book because I wanted to know more about what trauma cleaners do. I was not expecting to read such an incredible, fascinating and (in large part sad) true story about the person who spends her life cleaning up after traumas. Because of trauma, Sandra Pankhurst cannot remember aspects of her own life. Because of trauma, she finds it difficult to let others care for her.

    And yet, this resilient woman cares for others, affording them compassion, giving them dignity.

    This is Ms Krasnostein’s first book, and is well worth reading.

    Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  • Anna Baillie-Karas

    Wow. I read this in a day - I could not put it down.

    It’s the story of an extraordinary woman, told with compassion, insight and a beautiful writing style. We learn of Sandra’s heartbreaking past, in between visits to her cleaning clients. Her care for & non-judgment of them, and her incredible resilience and humour, are moving. We meet people living in squalor, neglected victims (or survivors?), their houses a ‘living death’.

    It’s also a social history of Melbourne and a window into the liv

    Wow. I read this in a day - I could not put it down.

    It’s the story of an extraordinary woman, told with compassion, insight and a beautiful writing style. We learn of Sandra’s heartbreaking past, in between visits to her cleaning clients. Her care for & non-judgment of them, and her incredible resilience and humour, are moving. We meet people living in squalor, neglected victims (or survivors?), their houses a ‘living death’.

    It’s also a social history of Melbourne and a window into the lives of people whom we ignore, or turn a blind eye to, or who have slipped through the cracks. A remarkable book.

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