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The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

The Trauma Cleaner (2018)

by Sarah Krasnostein

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The extraordinary biography of Peter/Sandra an Australian transgender woman. Adopted as a baby, but edged out of the family by a brutal father when they have natural children of their own.

At times I was reminded of the early life of Maya Angelou, and what she had to do as a young person to survive. Like her, Sandra is a survivor, despite all the knocks and knock-backs, she is an optimist.

As a 'trauma cleaner' someone who either supports those whose lives have disintegrated physically, to bring their environment back to health, or who cleans up after murder/suicide cases, Sandra brings her empathy and lack of judgement into the lives of people who need her, or those who are left behind the departed.

Sarah Krasnostein gets to know Sandra over a number of years, and I felt treats her with the respect and lack of judgment Sandra treats her own clients with. The book is both Sandra's story, intercut with the stories of some of the people she has helped as a trauma cleaner.

In many ways bringing harmony to the lives of those who have lost total control of their lives, enables Sandra to sustain harmony in her own life. She has to do everything to perfection. Nothing less will do for her clients or herself. ( )
  Caroline_McElwee | Apr 21, 2019 |
Sandra Pankhurst is a trauma cleaner. For those who might not be sure what a trauma cleaner is her, business card tells it all:

*Hoarding and Pet Hoarding Clean up * 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 Clean Up * Industrial Accidents * Cell Cleaning
There’s probably enough in that list to fill the book on its own, as Krasnostein focuses on Sandra’s indomitable energy and compassion in dealing with her clients, whether dead or alive. But Sandra’s life is much more complicated than that. Born male, in the Australia of the 1950s, Sandra went from an abusive childhood to being married and the father of two children in her early twenties. Abandoning her family, and transitioning to male in a society where being transsexual was totally unacceptable she experienced violence, discrimination and was able only to make a living by prostitution.

This was a fascinating look at a woman with an incredible zest for life who overcame the extreme disadvantages that she faced by sheer force of personality and hard work. If it has a downside, it is that Krasnostein is a little too enamoured of her subject - a little more objectivity would not have gone amiss. But a fascinating read nonetheless - but definitely not for the squeamish. ( )
1 vote SandDune | Feb 8, 2019 |
The title is a bit misleading since I assumed it would be about the business of crime scene and trauma cleaning, à la Mary Roach (author of Stiff) and her popular science books about the obscure and grotesque. However, the majority of the book focuses on Sandra Pankhurst's trouble beginnings (abusive/neglectful parents) and struggles with gender identity (becoming a drag queen, then sex reassignment surgery). The author, Sarah Krasnostein, did a great job of prefacing the biography with the reminder that Pankhurst is an unreliable narrator and not everything she says can be taken at face value due to habitual drug use, faulty memory, trauma, or bias. The author was also quick to call out Pankhurst on inaccuracies in her stories. I particularly liked how Krasnostein portrayed her subject in a sympathetic light while not making excuses for some of the morally grey actions that Pankhurst took during the darker times of her life. Despite the uniqueness of Pankhurst's life, I found the chapters dedicated to trauma cleaning more fascinating and wished the author spent more time writing about the ins and outs of the business. Overall, I enjoyed the book even though it was very different from what I expected. ( )
  hianbai | Feb 7, 2019 |
"The Trauma Cleaner" is a two pronged tale about the life of business woman, Sandra Pankhurst. The book describes, in sometimes gory detail, the ins and outs of trauma cleaning. This is the cleaning of properties where a natural death, murder or a crime has occurred, or where a person with a mental illness or disability, has been unable to clean and is now living in the equivalent of a garbage dump. Kranostein describes the work processes undertaken by Ms Pankhurst and her team, and the lengths she goes to, to win the trust and engagement of her clients.

The descriptions of the cleaning business work are broken up with the tales of Ms Pankhurst's life experiences. Krasnostein describes her life from her harrowing childhood, to her difficulties coming to terms with her gender identity, work in the sex industry, drug and alcohol addiction, managing a business, chronic illness, and family relationship. It's a tale of tragedy and triumph, failures and successes, sadness and joy. This is well worth the read. ( )
  SarahEBear | Jan 18, 2019 |
Sandra Pankhurst has led one hell of a life. From being adopted as a young child, awful childhood abuse by those adoptive parents, through to marriage, fatherhood and finally acknowledgement of alternative sexuality - firstly as a gay man / ultimately the realisation that she was transgender. Marriage breakdown led to life as a drug addict, drag queen, sex worker, gender transition, wife, severe health issues, and finally a highly successful business as a trauma cleaner. Pankhurst has not had, nor made, an easy path in life. Every time I've heard her interviewed, everything I've ever read about Sandra Pankhurst indicates she is a seriously impressive person - flawed with no qualms about showing that, compassionate and patient with those less fortunate, demanding and exacting as a boss, Pankhurst comes across as somebody who has battered a lot of demons to death.

It's a bit of a pity then that THE TRAUMA CLEANER is a split personality sort of a book. I think it's easy to read between the lines that Pankhurst is not as forthcoming as perhaps the author would have liked - either due to memory loss or a desire to let some things remain in the past - who knows / not our business after all. Unfortunately what we have ended up with therefore is less memoir of a prominent member of the transgender community, less exploration of the life and reality of being a trauma cleaner, but a sort of mash up of some personal remembrance, some background story, some tales of individual cleanups, and a lack of clear intent which got a bit frustrating at points. Those glimpses into the personal and professional life that Pankhurst has allowed reinforce her standing, but the somewhat breathless worship of her by the author is ... perhaps understandable but a bit overblown at points.

Absolutely no doubt about it - Pankhurst and what she does for a living are fascinating stories. Maybe as two distinct books it would have worked better for this reader - Pankhurst is much more than her trauma cleaning business, and trauma cleaning and hoarder cleanups are obviously a minefield of difficult people / difficult circumstances / awful situations that trying to tackle both in the one book muddied the message too much.

https://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/trauma-cleaner-sarah-krasnostein ( )
  austcrimefiction | Jan 11, 2019 |
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"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 ... Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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