I've read a lot about atrocities in the last year, and I'm struck by the difference between the different genres that deal with them. The most miserable way to read about atrocities is to pick up a straightforward work of non-fiction. I'm currently reading Holocaust: A History by Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan Van Pelt. It's extremely well-written and informative, but so painful! Since it's a chronicle of events starting with the precursors of the Holocaust, the trajectory of the book can't be anything but consistently downhill.
The other books I've read recently avoid this trajectory, even when they deal with terrible events. For example, the superb novel What is the What, by Dave Eggers, tells the gruesome true story of a small boy's exodus from war torn southern Sudan. Passages in the book are more heartbreaking than you can imagine, but you know from the beginning this is a book about a survivor.
The same is true of memoirs by Holocaust survivors. Night, by Elie Wiesel, is heartbreaking and shocking, but the reader knows all along that Wiesel will be alive at the end of the book. You read your way into total darkness ("night"), knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
Novelists can deliberately take you on an up and down journey, but even the most pitiless writer has some compassion for the reader! A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, is a very painful portrait of life for lower caste Indians, but it's not a complete and total descent into hell. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, is an excruciating 9/11 book, but still amusing in places.
The difference between the Holocaust history and all these other books, if you had to narrow it down to one thing, is the writer's perspective. A comprehensive, birds-eye perspective of the Holocaust can't fail to be utterly depressing. A survivor's perspective is another matter. And a storyteller's perspective is usually yet another--a good story is never all one color. Sadly enough, it just doesn't make sense to always pick the easier-to-take book. If you want to read a history of the Holocaust, Dwork and Van Pelt have written a really good one.