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Updated: Mar 21, 2019

In 1954 Robert was a clerical worker. He would spend his days working at The Royal Australian Air Force base in Braybrook. Then he would spend his evenings at the Plough Hotel getting drunk, returning home, and beating his wife and adopted son. Peter was adopted when his parents were told they could not have any more biological children. However, Ailsa, the mother, does indeed fall pregnant and in the next three years has two sons. Peter, still receiving his regular beatings is moved into a shed in the yard and is forbidden to enter the main house after 4.30pm. All this while still receiving his regular beatings, now while sometimes being tied to the clothesline. Not exactly an ideal childhood. But it’s not all doom and gloom. On Sunday nights, when his Grandparents come for dinner, he is allowed dinner in the house, at the table with them, his one meal for the week. When the family take a trip to Tasmania, Peter is excluded and told to paint the house while they are gone. He toils away, trying to do the best job possible and receives a pair of plastic handcuffs in the shape of Tasmania as a present when the family returns. At this point you are probably thinking how can an author write such a tragic childhood for this character? Well, this is a true story. It’s nonfiction. Peter grows up marries and has two sons of his own, but something is not right. He realises that he has been born a woman trapped in a man’s body. This is Sandra’s, the name she gives herself, story and it as interesting as it can get. Sandra’s life could easily be a work of fiction. She has been a drag queen, sex worker, business woman, hardware store owner, and this is all before she finds her true vocation as a Trauma Cleaner. Before reading this book, it had never occurred to me how, or who, cleans up the murder, suicide, and trauma scenes. Not only these, but the houses of hoarders, which make up most of the scenes that we are taken through during the narrative. Sandra starts up a company that

Sandra on the job.

specializes in the industrial level of cleaning required for these jobs. However, the book is not really about this job, it is more about the characters Sandra meets, and the relationships between these clients that she makes, and how she cares for them. In fact, most of these characters are so interesting, I think that Krasnostein could have maybe lengthened the book and given us some more time with them. Sandra is an amazing, empathic character, who cares deeply about her clients, going above and beyond the mandate of the job. She will often keep items such as fridges and couches and give them to another client free of charge to help them out. The structure of the narrative works beautifully as well. One chapter will cover Sandra’s story, and then the next chapter, with the name of the Client, will tell the client’s story and the process of cleaning that current job. It works to great effect, with the reader slowly learning more of Sandra’s life and history in between the jobs. I think living in the same area most of this book takes place made this and even more enjoyable read. Sarah Krasnostein is a talented author and it is superbly written. 4 Stars.

Biography from goodreads.

Sarah Krasnostein is a writer and a lawyer with a doctorate in criminal law. She is the 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.

There is a nice little video of her talking about the book here -


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