The Trauma Cleaner – November Book of the Month

Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner is startlingly unique. This is down in no small part to the complete individuality of its subject, Sandra Pankhurst.

Before she became a trauma cleaner, Sandra was many things. A funeral director, a small businesswoman, husband, father, trophy wife. A survivor of childhood abuse and neglect, much of Sandra’s adult life was influenced by a desire to connect with wider society.  When she became a trauma cleaner, tasked with restoring sites of squalor, extreme violence or natural disaster, she found her place. Sandra treats her clients with respect and compassion, making space for them in a world that has been engineered to keep them on the fringes. 

Tenderness begets tenderness, and as Krasnostein witnesses Sandra Pankhurst’s kindness towards her clients, she applies the same care and consideration to Sandra herself.  Her dedication has paid off: to date, The Trauma Cleaner has been shortlisted for a whopping nine awards, including the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize. On top of that the book has won a further five prizes, among them the Victorian Prize for Literature and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, both in 2018.

Unsurpisingly, the book has also received a staggering amount of praise:

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

[A] one-of-a-kind biography. New York Times Book Review

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. – The Pool

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 

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

[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

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

[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

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

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 sites of sadness and horror that take the reader straight to the dark heart of the human condition. – Australian Book Review Best Books of 2017

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

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

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)

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

Absolutely stunning. – Popsugar

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein is out now from Text Publishing
(9781925603897, p/b, £8.99)

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