Living abroad, it’s not easy to get my hands on books in English. However, thanks to the magic of Facebook groups, I am part of a network of English-speakers in my town that occasionally meet up to exchange our books. It was one of these book exchanges that brought this beautiful and woeful tale of Afghani women to my bedside table.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel by Khaled Hosseini, an Afghanistan-born man living currently in California. He is known for best-seller The Kite Runner, which I have not yet read…shhhh. The fact that the author of this book is a man actually surprised me. The ability to create a story told through female characters’ voices so accurately and dynamically was one that I had just assumed was coming from inside a woman’s own head.

Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation.

I warn you, this is a relentlessly heartbreaking book. If you’re in a downtrodden mood this winter or dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder – maybe set this one aside until spring.

I love books that transport me, and this book does that. I love first-hand accounts of life in completely different situations than mine. This book offers that. And I love stories that show the real, complex, difficult decisions and life situations that we humans face, rather than the predictable rote of fairytale-esque Hallmark movies. This book serves complex with a side of agony.

So if you’re looking for something new to check out – ok the book is actually a decade old – to give you a cultural escape and a bit of levity….check out this and other titles by Khaled Hosseini. I’ll be trying And the Mountains Echoed next. And hopefully will eventually get to The Kite Runner.