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The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

the trauma cleaner book cover

Judges' Comments 

This is the story of a neglected boy who became a trauma cleaner and, in between, a father, sex worker and businesswoman. It boldly describes the life of the trauma cleaner — with her hazy memories, flaws and desperate moments — and delves into the lives that have unravelled so much, that order is only made possible by the arrival of a team of cleaners in masks, hazard suits and, in the case of Sandra Pankhurst, a bucket full of empathy.

It is a confronting story, but the author is clear-eyed and curious about the cleaner, her clients and the psychology of despair. ‘Using words as disinfectants’, the author uncovers both the reality of Australia’s underclass and the life of a courageous and resilient woman, who mends the lives of others with a love that she never received as a boy.

Compellingly written, Sarah Krasnostein has produced an outstanding work of literary non-fiction that reminds the reader that truths might not always be something that can be footnoted, but can be people’s – Sandra’s, her friends’ and family’s – perceptions and memories of who they are. If Sandra, with all of her apparent contradictions and unbounded empathy wasn’t so real, it would be almost impossible to invent.