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The Trauma Cleaner

Narrated by: Rachael Tidd
Length: 9 hrs and 17 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (147 ratings)

Regular price: $24.47

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Publisher's Summary

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 40 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. 

Winner of the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Literature. 

Winner of the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Nonfiction.

©2018 Blackstone Publishing (P)2018 Sarah Krasnostein

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Beautiful, emotional, and perfectly narrated.

I’ve been chewing on this review for days and I’m sure I won’t do this one justice. How do you put into words a story that makes your heart heavy with sorrow and full of love, joy, and compassion at the same time? I’d have a hard time formulating an answer the question “what is it about?”. I keep ending up with some sort of grammatically incorrect, run-on gibberish that goes something like this: It’s about this woman’s life, only she wasn’t born in a woman’s body, whose parent’s were horribly abusive but somehow she maintains this amazing level of dignity through all of these shitty things that happen to in her life, and not only that but she goes on to run this very successful and interesting business where she employs all of the empathy and compassion she was either born with or has acquired because of her experiences (probably both) to help other people who are at or near rock bottom when they need her services. Or she cleans up the messes their dead bodies make.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I’ll try to make my thoughts a little more coherent. The Trauma Cleaner is a beautifully written story about Sandra Pankhurst, owner of Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services (STC) in Australia. The chapters alternate between Sandra’s personal story and those of a few of her clients. Sandra’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. One should be prepared to read, or in my case listen to, some very disturbing details. It’s been decades since I read A Child Called It, and while I don’t recall all of the details of that book, I recall parts of it making me feel quite similarly.

I really don’t want to say much more about Sandra’s story or that of her clients. That is for the reader to discover. What I’d like to tell you about is what makes this story so special and why I grew so fond of Sandra and the author, Sarah Krasnostein.

First, this book is filled with empathy and respect. Hoarders, sex workers, LGBTQIA, those with behavioral health issues, and every other marginalized or otherwise disenfranchised person or group mentioned in this book is spoken of with tenderness and respect.

Second, and this is very me-specific, I really liked and identified with Sandra. She reminded me of bits and pieces of my grandmother, myself, and a few my favorite nurse/healtcare co-workers over the years. As a matter of fact, I found her to be as much, if not more, a carer than a cleaner. She really has a gift of relating to all kinds of people in the way that works for them. She uses candor, humor, and when needed, tough love. She would be an excellent nurse herself.

I’m really very glad that I listened to The Trauma Cleaner I think I was even more engaged than if I’d been reading it. Rachael Tidd was an excellent narrator.

I didn’t do any research on Sandra prior to completing my listen and I’m glad I didn’t. After I was through, I did some Googling and found some great articles and interviews. I’m not including links because I think it’s better to go in not knowing much beyond the blurb but wanted to mention that they are out there.

** This book contains graphic descriptions of child abuse and (adult) sexual abuse.**

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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A remarkable book

This is a complicated narrative beautifully told (by subject, author and narrator). If the surface story (a woman in Australia runs a small business cleaning up after the very, very worst things that might happen to us) were not sufficiently compelling (it is!), the backstory of the woman’s life as abused child turned struggling husband and father turned transgendered sex worker turned loving wife turned compassionate business owner will break your heart, glue it back together and then stomp on it. The book offers news we need about the consequences of abandoning elderly and infirm human beings to the loneliness of aging alone. It is a remarkable book about a remarkable woman written by a very gifted writer. And the reader does a wonderful job, too.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Blessed Sorrow.<br />

The story grabs you from the first snd shakes you to your core. The exquisite pain and triumphant of the main character is full of life lessons for the most sane of us. Thank you for this incredible look at life.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Misleading

I thought it would be about the business but it was mostly about gender identity.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Tiffany
  • Monticello, MN, United States
  • 05-19-18

a love letter to Sandra

a beautifully written and intelligently deciphered account of an extraordinary life and finding order amongst the choas.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Confusing and hard to follow the story line

I listen to books in the car as I drive a good distance for work. I started to listen to this book and I got confused trying to follow the story. The adopted as a baby, but possibly his adopted father is his biological father, to an abused child with teeth that are rotting off. Next he goes to a conventional marriage with 2 kids but is a drag queen on the side. Then to a hooker to pay the bills and then to sex reassignment surgery, COPD, needs lung transplants. Every so often the notion of the title "The Trauma Cleaner" would show up and they would have a few paragraphs about a house they were working on.
I had such a hard time understanding who was who and which persona he was at that place in the book that I finally shut it off.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Boring....

This book was really just about this woman being trans. After 5 chapters I’m deleting it off my phone.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Not what you are expecting

This book was recommended as a sort of "odd jobs" book. I found it to be much more about a man becoming a transsexual. It was still somewhat interesting but not exactly what I was looking for.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Heavy Book with Heavy Subject

I can’t say I loved this book, nor hated it. It is so full of the details of Sandra’s life, that at times it gets tedious. The author bounces back and forth from past to present so much that at times it’s difficult to decipher what’s going on. In those instances, I often had to go back to re-listen, thus making it a very long book. Some of the details are so graphic that it’s hard to listen to. I had to move on to another book (or two or three) before picking this book back up to finish. And when it was over, I heaved a sigh of relief. But at the same time, the telling of this sad woman’s life has value if only to realize that the most precious thing in one’s life is your relationships. Her upbringing is so awful and horrid, her parents so abusive physically, emotionally, and mentally, it’s a wonder she has become who she is today. Yet the sad testimony of her life is an inability to connect with those who matter most to her.
I wouldn’t say don’t listen to this book, but I will say, it’s not a book I would listen to again. It’s a heavy book with a heavy subject, and I feel like I need to go re-read Sy Montgomery’s How to be a Good Creature.

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Simply beautiful

An amazing story, beautifully told, of a trauma and transformation and avoidance. I appreciate the unique story telling and narrator's perspective. Thank you.