The Trauma Cleaner: an extraordinary book about an extraordinary woman

I’ve just finished reading The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein. It’s often a very hard read – it’s a biography of someone who cleans up crime scenes and the homes of deeply troubled people, and who’s experienced terrible things in her own life; it goes to some very dark places – but it’s an incredible piece of writing.

It was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize last year. Here’s what the awards site says about it.

The author charts the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bringing order and care to the living and the dead, in her role as a trauma cleaner. A compelling story of a fascinating life, and an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.

Sandra Pankhurst started life as an abused adopted son in a working-class family. Following marriage, fatherhood and divorce, she made the transition to living as a woman. Now, as a trauma cleaner she helps those at life’s dark extremes. In telling Sandra’s extraordinary story, Sarah Krasnostein shines a light on the complex and lasting legacies of trauma.

As The Pool wrote in its review:

Krasnostein’s writing is warm and curious. And, carefully, it draws a portrait of Pankhurst you’ll remember long after you’ve finished reading – a woman who is quietly, wonderfully triumphant while standing at the middle and centre of despair.