The Trauma Cleaner

The Trauma Cleaner

One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster

Book - 2018
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"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 living room. 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."--Jacket flap.
Publisher: New York, New York : St. Martin's Press, 2018.
Copyright Date: ©2017.
ISBN: 9781250101204
Characteristics: 291 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations, portraits ;,22 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
STPL_JessH Sep 12, 2019

First, let me say that the audiobook narration by Rachel Tidd was outstanding. She read with compassion and clarity and her work is the reason I actually finished the book.
I really struggled with Sarah Krasnostein's valorization of Sandra Pankhurst. Sandra can do no wrong in Krasnostein's telling. She actually spends a great deal of time defending actions Sandra herself does not defend.

I found the gratuitous descriptions of violence unnecessary, especially since I was listening instead of reading the print version and was not able to just skip those paragraphs. These sections could have been handled much more discreetly by Krasnostein. Please do not misunderstand me. I am in now way attempting to bypass or deny the trauma Pankhurst faced; I am simply making the point that how much detail to include is a choice authors have the ability to make.

I also struggled with the amount of time Krasnostein spends inserting herself into the narrative. I can appreciate that she is a participant-observer; however, I am not reading her biography. I picked up the book because I was interested in trauma cleaning. Instead, I ended up reading what Krasnostein herself calls a love letter.

Nov 28, 2018

For a biography, the author put in a lot about herself; unfortunately, she is markedly less interesting to me than the purported subject. also, the author often comments that she "just doesn't know" or "can't understand " something; this can be perhaps explained by the paucity of the index. Still worth a read because the subject is interesting and seems quite likable and courageous.

mko123 Sep 05, 2018

As a woman who has experienced a lot of trauma in her own life, Sandra Pankhurst, a professional bio-hazards technician, has the gift for dealing with people on the edge of society. She is able to gracefully handle the mentally ill and the hoarders who see themselves as trash even as they are unable to throw away the junk of life that is drowning them. Sandra herself is a mystery, and as her layers of memories resurface, I was amazed that she was able to transform a life of abysmal pain into a healing art.

DFZ Aug 31, 2018

Poignant, complex, messy and marvelous, The Trauma Cleaner documents the life of a trans woman who has survived and thrived through failures and success both, making a life and niche for herself despite transphobia at the hands of her parents, police, and society.

This book is more than just about cleaning in the aftermath of traumatic events, deaths, or in the face of hoarding. It is about the trauma of the kind of masculinity that abuses and wounds and weaponizes itself against those it sees as weaker. It is about the trauma of being transgender in a world where so many seek to punish any perceived deviation from the norm. It is about the trauma of a hard childhood and how that follows you. It is about hardships and trauma of surviving life in a society that prefers to keep some on the margins. This book is visceral, delving deep into the metaphorical and literal shit that trauma can bring. If you’re seeking viscera and not just the visceral, this book may not be for you.

TSCPL_ScarlettFH Jul 14, 2018

I was attracted to this book because I enjoy interesting stories about unusual topics. I was expecting this book to be more about the work than the person doing the work. To my surprise, the story is as much about the person as it is about her work. This is a beautifully written memoir full of sadness and loss but also humor and self-acceptance. Highly recommended.

DCLadults May 29, 2018

I love the feeling of wanting to hug a book to my chest and feeling grateful that I found it. For me, this rare. This story of a very hard life offered new seeds of thought, sudden epiphanies, and a different means of looking at social norms. I understand that this is not a book for everyone because it deals with topics such as child abuse and rape but, for me, by showing how the protagonist dealt with these issues I learned to undefine people and find beauty and strength in unexpected places.

Apr 30, 2018

I was drawn to this book by the title, and then thoroughly engaged when I found this to be a fascinating portrayal of a survivor: her storied past as a childhood abuse survivor, a husband, a sex worker and rape survivor, a wife, an entrepreneur, and ultimately, an independent woman. A really tough story beautifully written. Winner of the 2018 Victorian Prize for Literature (Australia).


Add a Quote
Mar 05, 2020

But the opposite of trauma is not the absence of trauma. The opposite of trauma is order, proportion; it is everything in it's place.

Mar 05, 2020

This is what it says on the back of Sandra Pankhurst's business card:
Excellence Is No Accident
Hoarding and Pet Hoarding Cleanup * Squalor/Trashed Properties * Preparing the Home for Home-Help Agencies to Attend * Odor Control * Homicide, Suicide, and Death Scenes * Deceased Estates * Mold, Flood, and Fire Remediation * Methamphetamine Lab Cleanup * Industrial Accidents * Cell Cleaning

Apr 30, 2018

"Using words as disinfectants, we are trauma cleaning. Word by word, sentence by sentence, we are reuniting fragments scattered by chaos to create heat and light. We cannot always eliminate what is bad or broken or lost, but we can do our best to put everything in its place, such Order being the true opposite of Trauma."

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top