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The Trauma Cleaner cover art

The Trauma Cleaner

By: Sarah Krasnostein
Narrated by: Rachael Tidd
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Editorial reviews

Emotional scars and mental-health struggles can manifest in a variety of ways. Among the least well-known, however, is how they can affect a person’s home. Sandra Parkhurst has made it her life’s work to enter these spaces, whether it be the rat and roach-infested homes of hoarders or the boarded-up dwellings of those struggling with addiction, to help restore order and bring peace to those living on the fringes of society. 

Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner, which won the Australian Prize for Literature in 2018, shares Parkhurst’s story in tender, heartbreaking detail. Narrator Rachel Tidd brings to life the story of a woman tormented by hostility and transphobic abuse, who managed to remain full of warmth and compassion towards society's most vulnerable. At turns moving, enthralling and deeply upsetting, this fundamentally human story underscores Parkhurst’s remarkable strength and humour in the face of tragedy and adversity.

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 listeners say about The Trauma Cleaner

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

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.

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54 people found this helpful

  • 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

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33 people found this helpful

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

Fascinating story

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

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31 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

I thought this would be a very interesting story but unfortunately, the whole tone of the book was sycophantic admiration of the protagonist. It was sometimes cringe-worthy in the misplaced adoration.

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22 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

I don't know why this grated on me

I'm not sure if it was the writing style or the delivery that I struggled with but something about this was very off-putting for me. The story itself is very interesting but I did not enjoy the way it was told

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22 people found this helpful

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

not what I expected

I thought this book was going to bed about trauma cleaning but it was more about the woman behind the business. Such an inspirational story.

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18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 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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16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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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 .

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12 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Roy
  • 08-09-2018

Not as advertised

I was expecting an in depth account of crime scene cleanup, and instead got the (albeit amazing) life story of transexual as told by her number one fan-girl. The accounts of actual trauma clean up are pretty much back to back hoarder stories.

Most damaging to the book's credibility is the author's blatant and biased adoration of the protagonist.

Kudos to Rachael Tidd for some decent narration.

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6 people found this helpful

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

Not my interest

I found nothing much of interest and the narrator has sinus inflammation by the sound.

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5 people found this helpful

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