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Husband father drag ueen sex worker wife 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 f The Trauma Cleaner

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The Trauma Cleaner One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death Decay and Disaster

Or some of society's most in need peopleSandra 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 a The Trauma Cleaner

Sarah Krasnostein ¿ 6 characters

Nd 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 Most fascinating p

10 thoughts on “The Trauma Cleaner One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death Decay and Disaster

  1. says:

    Recently The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death was popping up in discussion and I had been toying with a re read until fortuitously offered the chance to read Trauma Cleaners What perfect serendipity Don't you wonder just a bit about the secret lives of cleaners? Their tricks for getting out blood? The crazy things they encounter? Sadly though the blurb makes it sound as if such stories are the focus the book centers on Sandra the owner of a trauma cleaning business As Sandra was born a man and eventually transitioned to a woman this still had potential for fascinating insight into the process of change going from dysfunction to order While I think that might have been the theme the author was hoping for there was too little reflection to make it workIt begins with an introduction by the author sharing some of the purpose and challenges in writing this book but her deep affection for Sandra is clear It's followed by a 'trauma cleaning' of Kim's home an artist and tenant who has let trash her pet rats and her art get out of control The story soon transitions to Sandra's history beginning in 1950s 60s with Sandra's parents They adopted Sandra born 'Peter' when they were unable to have their own children although speculation is that Peter may have been the product of an affair When they had their own biological children Peter found himself being pushed out the door literally to a back shedThat bank and forth between time frames structures the entire book a section on a place Sandra is cleaning and the current resident followed by a chapter in Sandra's life The format for Sandra's history is strictly chronological beginning with childhood though the current cleaning project timeline is unclearI've never been a fan of unreliable narrators and Sandra is unreliable than most It isn't a personal criticism with a faulty memory I'm unreliable in my own way with details but a storytelling one how can you tell the story of someone who admits “Many of the facts of Sandra’s past are either entirely forgotten endlessly interchangeable neurotically ordered conflicting or loosely tethered to reality She is open about the fact that drugs may have impacted her memory It is also my belief that her memory loss is trauma induced” The solution in my mind would have been relentless fact checking research and interviewing but instead Krasnostein relies on a combination of often isolated incidents a couple of interviews and rather florid storytellingThough the sex work she does and the drugs she takes and her overriding need for constant company freuently mean that she is not in control of herself or her environment she is excellent at acting otherwise to conceal any vulnerability So she does not cry in public and while she might comment in the same tone as one comments on traffic that she is experiencing pain or discomfort and through of course she feels pain deeply she never actually shows it or make any practical adjustments to accommodate itKrasnostein is prone to making such sweeping statements without any supporting detail or commentary from Sandra showing she believes thisOne of the troubles of this kind of storytelling like any autobiography really is that in distance it sometimes becomes easy to judge people That may be why I prefer autobiographies like An Unuiet Mind A Memoir of Moods and Madness because it is easier for the subject to share their thoughts and perceptions and thus easier to understand without judgementIn this case the writer isn't able to get very much into Sandra's head so much here that would be the meat of the story goes almost unaddressed I don't think this is the writer's fault; any time such issues are brought up it sounds as if Sandra uickly dismisses them with a don't remember love kind of comment Sandra for instance fathered two children She currently has no contact with them and we have very little insight why although it is clear the writer also wonders She's also politically conservative which seems surprising given her trans background extensive drug use and history of supporting herself through sex work Again not really explained Nor is the simple fact of why she wears 'pristine white shoes' and refuses to wear gloves at her cleaning jobs We're left with the visual portrait of a presumably complex person this is how she makes her money this is how she dresses these are the things she buys these are the people she hangs around with It lacks the larger social context of Janet Mock's Redefining Realness My Path to Womanhood Identity Love So Much More with the exception on a chapter that deals with rape as well as her attention to detail on the transition As an aside I found Sandra's general dismissal and non discussion of the process of transitioning to be fascinatingly obliueUltimately though I eagerly picked it up it never really paid off for me The lack of insight into either Sandra or the trauma cleaning case studiesprocess meant it was unsatisfying on either front However it was written engagingly enough that it wasn't a waste of time or utterly frustrated just too surface to really engage me emotionally or intellectually Kind of like watching a segment of 'Entertainment Tonight' or 'Hoarders' instead of a thoughtful in depth analysis one hopes for from a book It does make significant strides in this direction in the last hundred pages or so of the storyTwo and a half stars on my 'It was okay' scale rounding up because it was very readable

  2. says:

    The Trauma Cleaner Sandra is a horrible person but the blurb says Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life The author excuses the awfulness of her subject every time by harking back to her upbringingSandra then a boy had a traumatic upbringing an adopted child who was rejected and sent to live in a shed in the garden or a bungalow at age 9 11 or 13 his and others' recollections vary It's always better to tell the truth as that way you don't have to have a good memory If you can't keep your story straight you are probably lyingEventually the traumatised child grows to be a man and marries and has two sons When his gay side his drag ueen side makes it impossible to remain married he leaves taking the car and leaving his wife with the house the mortgage and the children He couldn't care less about anyone but himself He becomes Sandra and being uite beautiful according to the author the pics show a very masculine looking tall slim blonde she gets many men including illegally marrying one She never shows real caring for them unless it affects herselfThe Trauma Cleaning business is the interesting part of the book Sandra employs a lot of people to clean up after disasters but mostly from hoarders and those that let their pets use their entire house as a bathroom Sadly this most interesting part is very sketchy This as the blurb says is a love letter to Sandra by the authorAt the end of the book Sandra is reunited after 40 years with one of her sons She makes it clear to him and the author he isn't going to benefit for her will she's left her money elsewhere The final cutting blow of a manwoman who loved only themselves and didn't see anything wrong with that at allThis is a very sketchy review of a book that was uite well written but I did not enjoy It is 35 stars for writing and interest but 2 for enjoyment so I rounded it down The best review of this book is by Carol you can read it here

  3. says:

    WOWWhat a story My god I never read a story like this one I knew other friends liked this bookbut it was really Esil who inspired me to read this I almost sent my library ebook back to the library thinking I didn’t have time to read it or some other excuseI’ve started Crime and Punishment so I figured that might be enough trauma hahaBut all I can say is WOW WOW WOW Sarah Krasnostein did a terrific job writing this book sentence after sentence was beautiful and deeply felt often sharing her own relationship to Sandra but the real heroine is Sandra Pankhurst Book or no bookyet some life stories REALLY DESERVE to be writtenand this is one of them I didn’t even know that this was going to be the story that it was I thought it was going to be the ins and out of cleaning crime scenes It was that toobut really just a one part It’s SANDRA WHO STAYS WITH MEmuch less about her business The founder of Specialized Trauma Cleaning services in Melbourne Australia I fell in love with this extraordinary womanflaws and all Now about my age in her 60’s This is a human survival story like none other I’ve read And her heart compassionate heart is bigger than life itself My god Sandra’s life growing up was soooo devasting sad She was an adopted unwanted child abused neglected unloved She was kicked out of her home by age 17 married by 18 Sandra was living her life as Peter THE FATHER of two boys while beginning to transition she walked out abandoning her to children We learn about this too Enter prostitutionher drag ueen dayslife of drugs and alcohol as if horrific abuse wasn’t enough We get the entire story of how Sandra started her business and all that it entails I thought about readers TRYING to imagine cleaning those homes and thinking that 99% of us know they could never do it Sandra cleans them with loveThis uote sums up my experience of Sanda clear it breaks her heart to see anyone suffer She supports people emotionally helping them let go of emotional trauma as well as their physical nightmares Really beautiful real and inspiring “Despite seeing the same shit each day for 21 years Sandra treats each client as uniue in their circumstance and eual in their dignity I asked her once how she manages to maintain that attitude of compassion and absolute non judgment”“I think it’s a drive for me that everyone deserves it because I deserve it as well she explained”

  4. says:

    You'll just have to read this one for yourself to understand It's a multi layered tale about Sandra Pankhurst who is nearly impossible to describe without just writing a book about her as the author has done She's currently running a business that cleans up crime scenes of all kinds disasters drug labs hoarding situations of property andor animals both current and past scenes which can be filthy dangerous and toxic She knows her stuff like nobody's business and has a crew she manages very efficiently The other part of the story is Sandra herself and each of her rebirths she has gone through each time she's had to pick up and start over what she's gone through getting to where she is in life It's been a tough road which would have broken a lesser person yet still Sandra perseveres despite being ill still trying to help others It's uite a story and worth reading An advance copy was provided by NetGalley and the author Sarah Krasnostein for an unbiased review St Martin's PressApril 10 2018

  5. says:

    I would give this six stars if I could

  6. says:

    The Trauma CleanerOne Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death Decay and DisasterSarah KrasnosteinMY RATING ⭐️⭐️▫️▫️▫️PUBLISHER St Martin’s Press PUBLISHED April 10 2018REVIEWThis story found within the pages of THE TRAUMA CLEANER One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death Decay and Disaster was unexpected I thought the book was about cleaning up after deaths crime scenes and hoarders and how one woman fights the good fight to do this I didn’t know I would be reading about the horrendous childhood and difficult life of this woman who was born as a boy I didn’t know I’d be reading about the details of her sex change operation and her rough life in the brothels And while Sandra Pankhurst should be admired for her perseverance and her compassion in her cleaning business the book tries to cover to much and goes to far It is interesting that an author would even attempt a full life biography of a woman with a self professed faulty memory and then continue to remind the reader that this or that may not be accurate throughout the book It casts doubt on the entire story Author Sarah Krasnostein is very much a part of the book and the story She followed Sandra Pankhurst to various cleaning scenes over a four year period At the end of the first chapter Krasnostein describes this book as a love letter to Sandra Krasnostein’s admiration and affection for Sandra is apparent through the book with such sentiment as “I have the rapturous experience many times of simply listening to her swear” The chapters which deal with trauma cleaning are seemingly told by Krasnostein as the observer But by placing herself in the story she gets in the way These chapter are interesting but are little than a documentation of what Krasnostein sees The chapters which reveal Sandra’s life history are told from a third person point of view and while gut wrenching held little interest given the expectation from the title The transitions in point of view from chapter to chapter make the book a little difficult to read The writing was also difficult to follow reuiring freuent rereading of pages and paragraphs to determine who was speaking or who was being discussed There are an immense number of people and name changes referenced in the book and keeping up with everyone adds to the struggle THE TRAUMA CLEANER was a trying read Thanks to NetGalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

  7. says:

    Most fascinating person everThis is the number 1 most fascinating person I’ve ever come across seriously Her far out life and her far out job just slay me For the entire book my eyes were in startle position and my brain was in wonder warp I could not put this biography down It’s about a person named Sandra I can relate to her life as much as I can relate to jumping out of an airplane Her life has been bizarre but that’s putting it mildly I’m not going to elaborate though man do I want to in the off chance you’re going into the book blind The layout of the book is creative Chapters alternate between the story of Sandra’s life and reports of her cleaning jobs The writer goes to the sites along with the cleanup crew so you get a first hand report of what’s happening The way the book is set up showing past and present Sandra gives you a vivid picture of her unusual life I was interested eually in both stories so I never got annoyed when the focus switchedSandra’s strange past is startling and heart breaking you will do a lot of gasping yet you can’t help but admire her resilience and sense of survival She is a very complicated survivor and her psychology is fascinating Some of Sandra’s choices will infuriate you; she’s not always likeable She has memory and health problems due to a lot of substance abuse and hormones yet she is a model citizen with a great work ethic She has lived through many traumatic events—way than one person should have to; it’s a wonder she isn’t catatonic or dead Instead she holds no pity parties Or at least none that we the reader can see—the biographer adores her and puts a positive spin on everything Sometimes the writer’s idol worship is annoying but mostly not Oh the cleanups The thought of feces rats bugs and stench of course makes me sick But getting to sit in my calm and relatively clean surroundings and read about these faraway gross scenes worked out just fine The descriptions of the pungent piles and the people who own them are detailed and vivid I was right there a fly on the wall although I probably should stay away from the bug imagery able to watch without smelling or tripping over shit This is the time when you’re plenty grateful that the visits are virtualYou get to hear the hoarders’ stories and they fascinated me Their stinky piles reflect a uniue and mystifying psychology What were the hoarders like pre stink? What do they think about it all now? Do they feel good or bad when their house is clean?I have to admit that my secret paper hoarder self got antsy Nothing like a little shock therapy to make you clean up your act You better believe that I tackled the growing piles of junky paper on my table; it was starting to look pretty bad And then there’s Sandra How can she stand it? What in the world could make her want to enter these toxic environments? That just fascinates me too What’s in Sandra’s head as she goes off to work every day? I guess she’s all la de da I’ll just pull out my sledgehammer and dislodge some of the stuck on caca that engulfs every inch of this home while holding my nose so I don’t puke Forget about grabbing my Bon Ami; I’ll get out my rake and crowbar if you don’t mind Her business is thriving and she prides herself in being a perfectionist Sandra has a way of working with hoarders handling them with respect as she rescues them from the piles engulfing them She treats them gently and tries to lower their hugundous anxiety I got a peek into what made some hoarders tick and I got to see in detail how a team goes about cleaning up the mess—what tools they use what health precautions they take They all wear space outfits except Sandra who goes into each home sort of dressed up Who in the hell signs up for this job?? Surprisingly I have a Complaint Board which I hardly ever drag out for a 5 star read But although you can barely see the complaints because I wrote in very light chalk they can’t be ignoredComplaint Board Come on biographer What’s with all the dialogue? This isn’t fiction with its fair share of dialogue uotation marks everywhere but this book often reads like that Hello this is a biography which means there is no way you know the precise conversations people had Having actual words coming out of actual people’s mouths is just all wrong I think this is done for dramatic effect but you shouldn’t be going for dramatic effect in a biography You say that Sandra has memory problems—all the reason to avoid uoting conversations This complaint has an asterisk because every time I read a conversation I winced knowing you weren’t writing truth So you can imagine how much I liked this book if I am willing to overlook this Shame shame shame sung to the tune of Aretha Franklin's Chain Chain Chain Biographer I share your interest in shame and I have been meaning to read Bene Brown’s books on the subject but really discussions of her ideas don’t belong in a biography It doesn’t do the book any favors when you decide to play amateur psychologist Luckily you kept this discussion very short I forgive you I feel bad for you but At the end you talked very briefly about your own depression I hate to be callous but it’s not cool to talk about your own psychology in a biography SorryThere That’s over with So let me end by saying again that I loved this book The writing is lyrical and smart; I loved the sentences I’m especially impressed because the author’s day job is as a lawyer The scenes both of Sandra’s life and her jobs are hard to stomach but they are so well described you feel like you’re watching a movie I recently talked lovingly about this book to a non reader acuaintance She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to read this book “What’s the point?” she asked and I knew she meant it was too wild and weird for her and she had absolutely no interest in hanging out in gross houses with an oddball Well the point is it’s a great book well told and riveting Plus I just love to read about anything or anyone bizarre Actually I didn’t know I wanted to hang out in gross houses until I was there Oh what a book I won’t forget this one for a long long time

  8. says:

    I did not like this book I saw it and thought that sounds like a really interesting job I'm up for reading about that It was not a book about trauma cleaning It was basically a misery memoir I wouldn't have picked it up if I knew this with several of the most irritating features that sometimes pop up in biographies Let's get the issue of gender out the way first Sandra the subject of the book is a trans woman and the narrative delves into her pre transition past Now generally trans people prefer to have their gender and pronouns backdated to reflect that they didn't actually change gender they just affirmed what was always there It is possible that Sandra was cool with her backstory being presented as firmly male although this would be a bit unusual Maybe the author wrote that way with her blessing But given what a sensitive and painful issue this is for many trans people the author needed to spell this out right at the beginning All these stories about little boys who grow into men and then decide that they'd prefer to be women actually are really misleading about the trans experience and they are what many people think is the truth of it which actually causes a lot of harm It's not enough to put this trope into a book and present yourself as a trans ally because you're being complimentary about a trans womanDid I say complimentary? The author is ridiculous She basically states over and over that this woman is an inspiration beautiful saintly talented strong to the point where it becomes nauseating If Sandra's life story is true then she had a really difficult time when she was young and she survived and got herself into a job she's good at Good for her Effusive praise at this level is patronising and fetishising and most of all it comes across as fake as all hell Nobody feels as unrelentingly positive about another human being at all times You can't think of one thing that's bad about her? Well she has COPD and cirrhosis of the liver and is gradually dying so failing to take basic protective measures against infection in the environment she works in as we're informed she does makes her a total fucking idiot There you go That wasn't hard Enough about her being your Talmud Rosetta Stone Higgs Boson Can you even hear yourself?Sandra herself is very clearly an unreliable source and we're told this a lot Did this key event that changed everything happen when she was seven or thirteen? She doesn't know Might have been a good idea to try to cross check the information But let's assume that it's all true in which case she's had a very painful and challenging life But it's HER life Use direct uotes The way that this is written it is not clear how much of it is Sandra's memories and how much is speculation about how she probably felt and thought embellished by the author This matters I have a pet peeve with authors who write non fiction in which they insert their own take on the thoughts and feelings of others It's disrespectful regardless of the context but when the subject is right there in front of them it's downright slapdash I should know whose words I'm reading I have a hunch they aren't Sandra's If Sandra is as vague about the past as we're told she is she absolutely does not remember every thought that popped into her head on that Tuesday afternoonIt feels exploitative and icky to me It feels like a Cis Saviour situation like performative allyship at its most ridiculous And over this actually could have been a really good book The obvious structure would have been to treat it a little like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks present the information about the present and the cleaning jobs as told from the PoV of the author Then add in alternating sections about Sandra's life story in Sandra's words It would have been respectful accurate and less embarrassing to read

  9. says:

    This book was discombobulating But I like to be discombobulated I practically live for it It’s like the author decided to press everyone’s red buttons one after another like a kid running along a street pressing everyone’s front doorbell – parental abuse and neglect transgender transgender rape Drag acts Prostitution Life in a brothel Serious sexual assault male violence leading to murder mental collapse and piles of filthSandra our heroine runs a company which clears up after traumatic incidents like murder and suicide or hard core hoarders with 20 cats and 20 years of cat shit and 20 years of rats and 20 years of hoarding crap This book is as crammed with piles and piles of stuff as the houses of the hoarders Sandra cleans out The title has a double meaning Sandra repairs houses and to some extent we hope lives after trauma but at the same time the author Sarah Krasnostein is gingerly repairing Sandra’s own traumatic memories There are two trauma cleaners hereReally it’s only a little bit about the gruesome cleaning We get a few chapters on hoarders and how Sandra deals with their obvious distress when she and her team come to finally get rid of the mountains of rotting rubbish jammed into every corner of every room to the point where they only have a tiny patch of a mattress left to sleep on but only in the fetal position It’s often sick making be warned that some of these hoarders have had broken overflowing toilets that they haven’t had fixed for years that’s called wet sualor as oppose to dry sualor It is a real test for your imagination We don’t really get any insight into why hoarders hoard how they get in to such dire conditions without any intervention by family members or friends or neighbours but it does seem that they have a lot in common – few or no family left no friends left except the bottle and they’ve never let anyone in their house for years I was interested in all of that it’s why I picked this up but I found out that Sarah’s real interest is not in the cleaning or the clients but the cleaner Sandra This is really a sort of biography of Sandra who started out as Peter got married had two kids then transitioned to being a sex working female then ended up running a most peculiar business Sarah met Sandra fell in love than a little bit with this much older woman and tried hard to make sense of her life Nobody including Sandra had ever tried to do that before But Many of the facts of Sandra’s past are either entirely forgotten endlessly interchangeable neurotically ordered conflicting or loosely tethered to reality She is open about the fact that drugs may have impacted her memory No matter how many times we go over the first three decades of her life the timeline of dates and place is never clearAlas for me I was never as fascinated by Sandra as Sarah thought I ought to be It seemed all the time as if she could have done without Sarah’s endless attempts to reconstruct her many adventures You can almost hear her saying “But darl that’s all a long time ago and who gives a rat’s ass for it I sure don’t”This isn’t a bad book you know it’s heart is in the right place but Sarah does not do herself any favours with her real florid prose At the drop of a hat she will rhapsodise about Sandra For one heartbeat she says nothing Just holds her head very still and looks at me through sea blue irises under the high blonde bridges of her eyebrows Great eyes Sandra’s Huge strangely healthy looking luminous spheres moving in their sockets like the wet blue earth on its axis Or try this introduction to one of the hoarders called Dorothy As the heartwood of a tree sings to you of thousands of sunlit days and rainy hours – specific symphonies of soil and the seasons of weathering and revival that will grant you the structural strength to reach for your share of the light – the rotten core of Dorothy’s house is a whispered scream that hurtles you backwards through decades of pitch darknessStill The Trauma Cleaner has won awards – strangely healthy looking luminous awards – than I’ve had hot chicken tikka masalas so what the hell do I know right darls?FURTHER READINGWATCHING The Naked Civil Servant by uentin Crisp the autobiography of a defiantly effeminate gay man with perfect recall Stuart A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters a biography of another extremely marginalised person pieced together with great difficulty by the author Sunshine Cleaning a 2008 Amy Adams film that's also about trauma cleaning

  10. says:

    I recently read Maid which I liked but didn’t love I found the mix of focus on the author’s life and her observations of the people she worked for as a maid somewhat incongruous In a way The Trauma Cleaner does the same thing but so much better Sandra Pankhurst runs a company that cleans homes that seem beyond the possibility of being cleaned — the homes of hoarders people plagued by disease and addiction and the sites of horrendous deaths Sandra herself has survived — and gracefully so — what seems like an impossible life Born a boy adopted into a horribly abusive family and changing sexes in the 1980s in Australia her survival and spirit are uite extraordinary The author of this biography follows Sandra for a few years writing about her life and her work The parts about her work also include a peak at the lives of the people who live in the houses Sandra cleans The story is emotional but it’s also full of sharp edges and humour This is a powerful tribute to a woman who went to extraordinary lengths to live an ordinary life I especially liked listening to the audio because the narrator did a fabulous job giving Sandra a voice Thanks to GR friends Debbie and Bianca for pointing me towards this powerful book I finished it a few days ago but it’s still with me

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