Book Review: The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein

Just a quick heads up that this book is not for everyone. It deals with themes that some people may find distressing.

Title: The Trauma Cleaner
Author: Sarah Krasnostein
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication date: Out now


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.

Taken from the Text Publishing website


I must’ve been living under a rock for the last year, as The Trauma Cleaner had completely passed me by. It was only when watching SavidgeReads’ YouTube channel that I first heard of the book (thank you, Simon!).

There are three elements to the book: the subject of the biography, Sandra; the people whose homes Sandra cleans; and the author of the book, Sarah. It’s a refreshing change for me as this book has come out of Australia, which has many wonderful authors that never seem to make my TBR list (Sarah is American but spends most of her time living in Australia).

This is an example of one of those times where a chance encounter leads to something extraordinary. Sarah and Sandra met at a conference – it started with an interview request about what it is to be a trauma cleaner and quickly became something far more significant.

Between them, Sarah and Sandra have produced something remarkable. It’s an honest and transparent account of Sandra’s life. We are warned early on that Sandra’s account of her own life is unreliable. There is much she doesn’t remember, either from trauma or from years of drug use. However, there is also no exaggeration.

What is far more reliable, however, is Sarah’s accounts of witnessing Sandra engaging with those whose houses she cleans, or how she deals with the cases on behalf of the family of a loved one. For most of us, it’ll be an insight into which most of us will never bear witness. Decades of rubbish piled up which are not only physical representations of their lives but also fragments of their minds.

Sandra has lived many lives. She is a paragon of what it is to step forward and live the life you want to live, not what is expected of you. But it does not deny the damage that is done along the way.

This book is brutal, beautiful, and overwrought with emotion. It’s a story of what it is to be part of the LGBTQ+ community – and what it is not to be part of that community. It’s a story of trauma, abuse, love, and life. You will not forget Sandra.

The Trauma Cleaner has been longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2019. You can find out more about the prize here.

I purchased this book myself and I was not asked to write a review.

Order now

You can support your local bookshop by buying through them directly or via Hive.

Comment below

What do you think of The Trauma Cleaner? Will you be reading it? Let me know in the comments below.


8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein

  1. Interesting, I’ve not read this, but it reminded me that a few years ago I read a book called The Cleaner by Elisabeth Herrman. This MC cleaned up after crime scenes, not quite the same as this book, but your review made me think about it again. Many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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