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

2019 - Shortlisted


Judges comments

The Trauma Cleaner makes a highly original contribution to life writing, subverting and expanding received ideas about identity formation and the role of narrative. Sarah Krasnostein writes what she sees, observing her subject, Sandra Pankhurst, in her role as a trauma cleaner; in the fragments Pankhurst conjures of her past and her own imagination, trying on roles and identities that appear – sometimes fleetingly – to fit the facts. Krasnostein then asks why she, the biographer, sees as she does. 

Krasnostein is the faithful, disciplined reporter of messy detail and the spellbound biographer, at once dedicated to reporting Pankhurst’s elaborate specialist knowledge and beguiled by the lessons in truth her life seems to offer. Pankhurst exerts control over her biography in ways rarely seen; through action she speaks, cleaning the homes of vulnerable, traumatised people, conversing in the most nuanced ways on matters of seeming unimportance, and in her startling asides. The reader feels ‘there’; slapped with a wet dishcloth, made to see the world from Pankhurst’s vantage; ‘righted’ in Krasnostein’s terms. Biographer and subject do what life writing does best; they truly take their audience elsewhere.

About the author

Sarah Krasnostein

Sarah Krasnostein

Sarah Krasnostein is a writer and a legal researcher with a doctorate in criminal law. She was born in America, studied in Melbourne and has lived and worked in both countries. Her first book, The Trauma Cleaner, won the Victorian Prize for Literature and the Prize for Non-Fiction in the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards as well as the Australian Book Industry Award for General Non-Fiction and the 2019 NSW Premier's Literary Award for Non-fiction. Sarah lives in Melbourne and spends part of the year working in New York City.