The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

The Trauma Cleaner 1Sandra Pankhurst is resilient, generous and kindhearted – but oddly mercurial. She has lived many lives, but – until now – never had the chance to truly tell her remarkable story. Journalist Sarah 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.

Empathising with a traumatised puppeteer as she helps steer her towards a plan to rehabilitate the literal rubble of her life. Scraping away layers upon layers of rubbish, clothing, food scraps – the debris of trauma. Knowing which chemicals will mob up bloodstains. And just how body fluid can “soak through a sofa”. Specialised Trauma Cleaning will take the job. Satisfaction guaranteed. And the proprietor, Sandra Pankhurst, could fill a book with the stories she encounters as she wipes, and bags and cleans.

But it’s Sandra herself whose story we excavate as she cleans up other people’s complicated messes. Sandra – whose nails are always perfect, make up set, outfit immaculate – has remade herself from the trauma of her brutal childhood, early marriage, years of prostitution – and transition from male to female, at a time when being transgender rights were non-existent.

Krasnostein, Sarah (credit Gina Milicia) – SARAH WOULD PREFER THIS ONE FOR THE BOOKSarah Krasnostein follows Sandra as she works on homes that have become shrines to neglect, slow death or long-term depression. And in doing so, winds in the details of Sandra’s own life – using the recollections of her subject, and others who have played a role in her life along the way.
The narrative is told in a perpetual present. Whether it is Sandra’s early life as Peter. The boy who desperately craved his family’s love. Or ‘Celestial Star’ the show girl and sex worker with “the big personality”. Or the conservative, business minded effortlessly well-turned out Sandra. Who, not so long ago, thought she would find happiness as trophy wife to an older man. Only to once again remake herself as a self-sufficient business owner, beloved neighbour and hard-working cleaner.

This is an extensively researched, rich, honest and beautifully written biography. Sandra, despite the significant struggles of her life, shows remarkable resilience, humanity and a strong sense of empathy for those on the extreme margins. She is far from perfect. But her story is ultimately one that reveals a kind of everyday heroism all the more extraordinary for its unremarkable setting. Sandra’s story deserved to be told. And this is a story that will haunt the reader well beyond the final pages.

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      Synopsis

      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.About the author Sarah Krasnostein was born in America, studied in Melbourne and has lived and worked in both countries. Earning her doctorate in criminal law, she is a law lecturer and researcher. Her essay 'The Secret Life of a Crime Scene Cleaner' was published on Longreads and listed in Narratively's Top 10 Stories for 2014. She lives in Melbourne and spends part of the year working in New York City.
      Sarah Krasnostein
      About the author

      Sarah Krasnostein

      Sarah Krasnostein was born in America, studied in Melbourne and has lived and worked in both countries. Earning her doctorate in criminal law, she is a law lecturer and researcher. Her essay 'The Secret Life of a Crime Scene Cleaner' was published on Longreads and listed in Narratively's Top 10 Stories for 2014. She lives in Melbourne and spends part of the year working in New York City.

      Books by Sarah Krasnostein

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