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Sandra's extraordinary, ordinary life

Watch an interview with Sandra, accompanied by photos from throughout her life
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Publisher's Summary

Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. You've got to hear Sandra's incredible story.

Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. Audible's editors fell in love with Sandra because of her warmth, humour and grace, and we think you will, too. Here’s what we thought of The Trauma Cleaner:

"As an acquiring editor at Audible, I read a huge number of books but this one completely stopped me in my tracks. This is one of the most 'human' books I’ve ever read, with Sandra’s deep emotional empathy told with warmth and humour. Really though, it's incredibly hard to describe this book because it's truly original – you just have to listen to it!" - Harriet, Audible Editor

"Sarah's memoir of Sandra's extraordinary life is one of the most heartfelt, deeply moving and fundamentally human stories I've listened to in a long time. Much like Brian Reed did for John B McLemore in his remarkable S-Town, Sarah paints an incredibly intimate portrait of a woman whose empathy and will to survive shines through with incredible potency. Rarely have I come across a non-fiction story told with such poetic attention to detail." - Tom, Audible Editor

About the book

Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help people whose emotional scars are written on their houses. From the forgotten flat of a drug addict to the infested home of a hoarder, Sandra enters properties and lives at the same time. But few of the people she looks after know anything of the complexity of Sandra's own life. Raised in an uncaring home, Sandra's miraculous gift for warmth and humour in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy mark her out as a one-off and make this biography unmissable.

This is a truly unique book, taking the humanity of S-Town, the beauty of H Is for Hawk and the sensitivity of When Breath Becomes Air to create something of startling originality. Sarah gives listeners a window into a life in a way only unforgettable pieces of writing can.

Due to the nature of some of Sandra's life experiences there are parts of the book which some listeners may find upsetting.

About the author

Sarah Krasnostein is a writer and a lawyer with a doctorate in criminal law. A fourth generation American and a third generation Australian, she has lived and worked in both countries. She lives in Melbourne and spends part of the year working in New York City. The Trauma Cleaner (Text Publishing / St Martin's Press) is her first book.

©2017 Sarah Krasnostein (P)2018 Audible, Ltd

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Heartbreaking from every view. A lesson in empathy

If you could sum up The Trauma Cleaner in three words, what would they be?

upsetting. beautifully told

What other book might you compare The Trauma Cleaner to, and why?

Not sure. Im not a big reader. just getting back into it now.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Every scene in a new clients home

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

A lesson in empathy

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating story

A fascinating story, written sensitively and evocative imagery, and narrated well so that each voice is immediately recognisable.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A brilliant narrative masterly voiced

This is Sarah's Krasnostein’s amazing recounting of another's life and life experiences. What beautifully crafted writing. What a painful, sometimes horrifying, yet ultimately redemptive narrative.
At a point, close to the book's end, at which Sarah injects herself into the story—as she does, unobtrusively, at a few points—what she recounts resonates with me; as a father of a young woman who daily deals with her own demons, and as a person who lives with a low buzz of masked anxiety and has done for decades. Yet it is not this individual resonance that makes me absolutely love this book; it is that Sandra's story—Krasnostein's narrative—takes in such a sweep of Australian social history focussed through the lens of one person, achieving the remarkable in talking directly to many about how things have changed and how they could change some more. And then there are the tiny focused seconds that tell the story of forever.
Reading The Trauma Cleaner will reveal readers to themselves as much as revealing Sandra Pankhurst and Sarah Krasnostein and the numbers of other brilliantly drawn characters. I tead The Trauma Cleaner as an audiobook—it came up as a recommendation in Audible, which I use so as to keep up my reading and not to waste time—ironically—listening to the blather of talkback or the repetitive drone of newsradio, while driving. Rachael Tidd's voicing is simply par excellence—she takes the author's capture of the inimitable Australian vernacular, peppered as it often is with expletives and antipodean aphorisms, and truly brings it alive; the voicing of each of the characters, the redoubtable Pankhurst most particularly, shows a remarkable ear for casting voice talent and capacity for performance.
Before there was binge watching and binge listening, there were books that were unputdownable; this is one of them. It shows us that good writing and the book ain't dead yet. I continually shuffle and reshuffle my top 10 books—The Trauma Cleaner has immediately elected itself to that exclusive pantheon and it won't be dropping out. Read it; you must read it.
A little quote that I like: "What's the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?" wonders Sarah's father. Sarah and he muse on this for a second and then simultaneously posit "Faeces". I leave you with that tantalising tit bit.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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The Trauma Cleaner

Sarah brought back the memories of Sandra’s indomitable spirit and gritty humour back in floods, I cried and empathised with little boy on the outside looking in his family, chuckle d with memories of 70s clubs where I worked on upper and lower esplanade, and of course working as a trauma cleaner with the hardest taskmaster and trainer who drilled into me ‘Excellence Is No Accident ‘ a training that was to change my life more than I could have possible known then . Unique style of writing that brought Sandra to life with each chapter .

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • sam
  • 19-05-2018

SENSATIONAL

What a well rendered story. I loved the production too. Amazing! Highly recommended to those looking for a great listen.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Great listening

what as interesting story. what an interesting life. Sandra showed such courage its inspiring............ .........

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Very interesting story.

I really enjoyed this book. Such an unusual tale within a tale. there are intricacies wound throughout that mesmerize , keeping the listeners interest while the story of a life unfolds.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Amazing!

What an amazing story about a complex person who has lived a life of pain, heartache, disappointment but never became bitter.

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fantastic!

I loved this book, it was raw and heartfelt, couldn't stop listening. Well narrated too

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Both absorbing and distracting

Firstly, the narrator was very good and easy to listen. However, the story or stories both fascinated and disappointed. At times, I found it difficult to follow, bouncing around from one life incident to another. It is at times preaching and then at other times a deeply compassionate look at the actions of its subject. Bewildering is another word I'd ascribe to this book. Possibly, a pruning edit might have kept the book more taut. I'd certainly would have liked more on the 'trauma' side and perhaps less on the 'personal' side, though of course what occurred in the personal side much effected the trauma side. I feel there is enough for an additional book that deals with this book's title without the personal narrative. The book may have been better served if divided up into separate distinct parts without the constant overlap. This is not to diminish, of course, that this is a life journey of endurance and verve that most of us would find impossible to cope with let alone try to understand. One of the more unusual books I have come across and certainly recommended, though not for every reader's taste I suspect.

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  • Mrs. Lisa J. Goldblatt
  • 02-04-2018

A Fascinating Read

This is such a heartfelt and at the same time shocking story. I could not stop listening to it and am now going for round 2. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Bee
  • 31-03-2018

Fascinating

If, like me you are interested in weird and wonderful human behaviour and what makes us do what we do, you'll love this book. I was sorry when it finished.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • AS
  • 19-04-2018

An exquisit lesson in humanity

If you could sum up The Trauma Cleaner in three words, what would they be?

exquisite, touching, human

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Trauma Cleaner?

The Trauma Cleaner s a story of an extraordinary woman and her extraordinary journey through life. A lesson of perseverance and fight for identity and self-worth. A story of being lost and finding yourself through toughest of times. A real lesson in humanity though by the strangest of characters that there could be.

What about Rachael Tidd’s performance did you like?

The performance is deeply moving and artistic contributing to the narration.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Kez
  • 20-05-2018

powerful

powerful story well told and very well narrated. difficult to listen to but life affirming.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mandy
  • 20-05-2018

Astonishing book, this will live with you!

This is an extraordinary book with three very different stories woven together as the narrative on the people involved and the Cleaner herself. It's a raw book and marvellous because of that, it's got real punch and so it should have when you hear their stories. the lives of the hoarders themselves is compelling enough but the history of the Cleaner is something that will live on. it was superbly read too - a really impressive book.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Nat
  • 18-05-2018

Enthralling read, not sugar-coated

At times difficult to listen/read, The Trauma Cleaner is one of the best biographies I have come across. Despite it being recommended to me, I was doubtful it would keep me interested for the entirety of the book as it intersperses Sarah Pankhurst's life with snippets of her work - specialised cleaning services. I don't know if I'd say I enjoyed it, because it deals with difficult and uncomfortable topics, but I'm so glad I read it. Definitely would recommend.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Miss Michelle L Bagnall
  • 17-05-2018

Different in a good way

Really got a lot from this book I wasn’t sure about it, but I’ve learnt a lot from it, we all have our problems and some people have a bad up bringing, but after listening to this, Sandra and he amazing woman she came to be after you hear how she got where she did, makes you realise there is no need for hate towards the past and no blame to the past but also life always has a way of shocking us

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 17-05-2018

So many stories within the one

So many lives within the one.
Expertly written and authentically performed biography of such an interesting life.
I just couldn't stop listening- in the car on the way to work, whilst having dinner and going to bed, filling all my quiet moments with this powerful but humble tale of events.
Will definitely look out for more from this author.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Tamagochi
  • 16-05-2018

Great promise underdelivered

This book has a great promise - biography of a transgendered person, employed in an exotic industry, located in Australia. Just think of of all the unique experience and insights she must have had throughout her life and could share with the reader. While we do get sizeable bits of this and that, the pieces never seem to connect into complete picture and I was left rather disappointed with the story.

There are several noticeable problems with it. One is stated right away: Sandra is unreliable narrator. Her memory is full of holes, incomplete fragments and some of her recollections can be pure fiction. It has probably been partly mitigated by documents and interviews with other people, but I could not shake the feeling that parts came straight from author's own imagination. Like the scene when Sandra asked for permission to marry her future wife, told with excruciating emotional details yet a minute later admitted probably had never happened.

Another letdown was author's obvious infatuation with the subject of this book. We're told again and again how she adores Sandra and everything she does. Thus we get a very idealized version of a person. The reader is never presented with alternate points of view: of Sandra's children, co-workers and friends for example. Even more annoyingly, author is very keen on justifying all of Sandra's actions and denies her personal responsibility. This made me cringe at times.

A final note is on the narrator. Her voice was too timid, constantly on the verge of bursting into tears and did not reflect Sandra's bold personality well. Some chapters were overly dramatized and were rather distracting. Overall I did not feel a connection with the characters.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Zozi
  • 16-05-2018

Not as expected

Not enough trauma
cleaning.... more of a biography - should be called the life of Sandra Pankhurst