Critics' Picks review - The Trauma Cleaner

Critics' Picks

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This compassionate exploration of an extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster was shortlisted for the 2019 National Biography Award.

Critics' Picks photo - The Trauma Cleaner
The Trauma Cleaner is already the winner of the Victorian Prize for Literature 2018, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction 2018, Australian Book Industry Awards, General Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2018 and the Dobbie Literary Award, 2018. It is also the joint winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for Non-Fiction, 2019 and shortlisted for many other literary awards.

This book takes you through Sandra Pankhurst’s work history and life journey: from growing up, being adopted into a family and then being abused as a child, to marrying and having children, coming out as a trans woman, gender reassignment surgery, time as a sex worker and, as the title suggests, a trauma cleaner.

The author intersperses snippets of Sandra’s personal life with stories of cleaning out properties of hoarders, trashed properties, homicide, suicide, death scenes and deceased estates. When Sandra was growing up and uncertain of her gender identity, Krasnostein’s book shows there was no support or public understanding. This depicts her as a strong woman who is compassionate and understanding to the trauma of the people she helps with her cleaning business.

The cleaning stories and the reason behind the hoarding are interesting and well presented, but Sandra’s life is sometimes difficult to understand as she has forgotten parts of her life or is unclear with dates. This is possibly due to the trauma she had experienced in her youth and her ongoing health problems.

As a reader, I like the fact that Sandra, with all the problems of her past, shared her story warts and all with Krasnostein and that the author has told it with the compassion it deserves. This book is also a fascinating insight into how transgender women were treated in the 1970s and 1980s. The story may have been a completely different one if Sandra had been born 50 years later.

Reviewer: Nina Gosford, Librarian, Information & Access



“An extraordinarily impressive debut, in terms of both quality of writing and treatment of the subject matter.” -  Sydney Morning Herald

"Krasnostein’s playful yet heartfelt debut is one of the most arresting works of biography you will read in a long time.’ - The Guardian

"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. " - Judges' comments, National Biography Award 2019


Sarah Krasnostein is a writer and a lawyer with a doctorate in criminal law. She is the multi-award winning, bestselling author of The Trauma Cleaner (Text Publishing / St Martin’s Press). A fourth generation American and a third generation Australian, she has lived and worked in both countries. As a law lecturer and researcher, her areas of specialization are: the history of crime and punishment, comparative criminal law, sentencing law and criminal justice policy. She lives in Melbourne and spends part of the year working in New York City.