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

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

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Pub Date: 22 March 2018
Extent: 272pp
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781925498523
Rights: UK & Comm. (excl. Canada): Text Publishing

  • Winner, Victorian Prize for Literature, 2018

  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, 2018

  • Winner, NSW Premier’s Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction, 2019

  • Winner, ABIA General Non-Fiction Book of the Year, 2018

  • Shortlisted, Wellcome Book Prize, 2019

  • Shortlisted, Indie Book Award for Non-fiction, 2018

  • Shortlisted, ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, 2018

  • Shortlisted, ABDA Best Designed Autobiography/Biography/Memoir Non-Fiction Cover, W. H. Chong, 2018

  • Winner, ABDA Designers' Choice: Cover of the Year: W. H. Chong, 2018

  • Shortlisted, Dobbie Literary Award for a first time published author, 2018

  • Longlisted, Sisters in Crime's 18th Davitt Awards, 2018

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 from The Trauma Cleaner on the Lenny, Lit Thursday website 


‘ [A] one-of-a-kind biography.’ —Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review Summer Reading Guide

‘Absolutely stunning.’ —Popsugar

‘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)

‘A transgender former prostitute cleans up the fetid houses of the psychotic, the hopeless and the murdered. Sounds like some dubious TLC special, but it’s a fascinating bio of Sandra Pankhurst… Revelatory.’ —People

'Compelling and fascinating’ —Oxygen

‘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.’ —LitHub, Crimereads

‘Intriguing...A complex protagonist makes for engaging material.’ —Publishers Weekly

‘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.’ —Sarah Schmidt, author of See What I Have Done

‘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

‘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

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

‘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

‘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

‘Deeply moving…The book reads as a love letter from Krasnostein to Sandra…I treasured every word.’ —Sofie Laguna, Australian Women’s Weekly

‘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


Arts Hub
Australian ($)
ABC Radio Adelaide, Evenings 
ABC Radio, Afternoons (1:38:00) 
Book podcast 
NZ Radio, Saturday Morning
Nova 100, Chrissie, Sam & Browny
On Writing podcast
ABC Radio National, Life Matters
Gold 104.3 Radio, Jo and Lehmo  
ABC Radio Brisbane, Afternoons with Kelly Higgins-Devine (30:03) 
ABC Radio Melbourne, Breakfast 
2SER Radio, Weekend Breakfast 
Radio Adelaide 
Q&A with Sarah Krasnostein on the Feminist Writers Festival blog


Pool, ‘This Week We’re Reading’ 
Readings Blog
Rereaders podcast 
Saturday Paper 
Kill Your Darlings 
Whispering Gums blog 

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’.