Winner of the 2018 Dobbie Literary Award
I call my dad from the car and ask him about his morning, tell him about mine.
‘What kind of hoarder was she?’ he asks.
‘Books and cats, mainly,’ I tell the man who loves his cats and who I know is now actively considering his extensive book collection.
‘What’s the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?’ he wonders.
We are both silent before we laugh and answer in unison: ‘Faeces.’
But the difference is this phone call. And the others like it I could make—and how strong we are when we are loved.
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.
Loved this book. Such amazing insight and descriptions of a complex and hugely resilient woman taking on such difficult work. Have already recommended it to friends and bought another copy as a gift. Unique in style and subject matter - couldn't put it down.
Rae the reader
What a book! Loved it from start to finish, didn't want it to end.
Happy with product
This book is a tribute to the resilience of an "unusual" human being. It's a book I will never forget, and should be compulsory reading for every adult.
Perth, Western Australia
A fantastic read that had been recommended to me. Found it on Booktopia and two weeks later it arrived and I could not put it down.
The Trauma Cleaner is the first book by American-born author, lecturer and researcher, Sarah Krasnostein. She first met Sandra Pankhurst, founder of Specialised Trauma Cleaning Services, at a conference. Learning about her tumultuous life happens as Sarah accompanies Sandra and her STC team on cleaning jobs. As well as seeing a side of life to which most of us are not privy, it quickly becomes apparent that Sandra's own background makes her ideal for this sort of work: "Aside from a vast amount of technical skill that needs constant updating, I ask Sandra what else the work requires. 'Compassion,' she replies solemnly. 'Great compassion, great dignity and a good sense of humour 'cause you're gonna need it. And a really god sense of not being able to take the smell in, 'cause they stink. Putrid.'" The situations of the clients in the jobs may also trigger memories that Sandra has lost: "Many of the facts of Sandra's past are either entirely forgotten, endlessly interchangeable, neurotically ordered, conflicting or loosely tethered to reality. She is open about the fact that drugs may have impacted her memory … It is also my belief that her memory loss is trauma-induced." That chaotic past includes a cruelty-filled childhood, two marriages (one as a husband, another as a wife), fathering two sons, a sex-change operation, the death of a lover, a violent r@pe, a career as a drag queen, prostitute, taxi-cab scheduler, funeral arranger, hardware store owner, Chamber of Commerce President and cleaner. With regards hoarders, we learn that dead bodies are preferable to live ones, because no bartering or getting agreement or manipulation is required: the mess and smell are about the same. "…she is completely alone and living in a house full of books and yellowed newspapers and cats and their shlt, which for years she has been unable to clean or unwilling to acknowledge so she presses newspaper on top like a layer cake." Discussing this case later, the author's father ask
A story about a small child who was adopted in the 1950's and also rejected by his adopted parents by a cruel mother and violent father where he was starved of love and food and lived in the garden shed. The boy reinvents himself into a woman to erase painful memories of childhood rejection but the rage inside his heart knows no fury, ending in a series of bitter life experiences as a transvestite.
I read the book to gain an informed perspective. I highly recommend it to read or gift to anyone with a desire for greater understanding of the many aspects of one of life's most difficult journeys.
Gold Coast, Australia
"The Trauma Cleaner" is a surprising book. It is biography and it is social history. As personal, as intimate the gruesome details might be, in its writing is such skill and poetry that the audience is nothing but enthralled. Here is a world of love; that must fight for life.
`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 *
`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.' * Sarah Schmidt, author of See What I Have Done *
`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 *
`A wondrous portrait of an inspiring character.' * Saturday Paper *
`Sandra Pankurst's life is a Netflix series waiting to happen...Krasnostein is a marvelous, sympathetic observer and narrator...Love, love, love this book.' * Sun Bookshop *
`An extraordinary life story superbly retold.' * Tim Gott, Devonport Bookshop *
`Superbly sensitive...A truly unusual biography which is both confronting and edifying.' * Toowoomba Chronicle *
`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 *
`[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 *
`[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 *
`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 *
`[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 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.' * Better Reading *
`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 *
`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 *
` [A] one-of-a-kind biography.' * Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review Summer Reading Guide *
`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 sites 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 *
`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 *
`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 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 *
`Deeply moving...The book reads as a love letter from Krasnostein to Sandra...I treasured every word.' -- Sofie Laguna * Australian Women's Weekly *
`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.' -- Janet Albrechtsen * Australian *
`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.' * Good Reading *
`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.' * Pool UK *
`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.' * Booklist (starred review) *
`Intriguing...A complex protagonist makes for engaging material.' * Publishers Weekly *
Number Of Pages: 320
Published: 2nd October 2017
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 15.5 x 23.3 x 1.8
Weight (kg): 0.34