Like a literary knight errant, Czech novelist Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984; Immortality, 1991; etc.) rescues the novel, admired novelists, and composers from the distortions and betrayals of critics, translators, and friends while simultaneously offering provocative insights into the musical and literary arts. The essay, like the musical compositions Kundera discusses, is divided into complementary parts, in this case, nine. And within these divisions, writers and composers appear and reappear like characters in a novel who strut their stuff and endure the perfidy of friend and foe before taking their allotted place in Kundera's pantheon of seminal artists--a pantheon that, given Kundera's background, is Eurocentric, though Hemingway, Salman Rushdie, and GarcÂ¡a Mrquez are included. But the writers that primarily preoccupy him are Rabelais, who wrote one of the first novels because ""he created a realm where moral judgment is suspended"" and introduced what Octavio Paz called ""the greatest invention of the modern spirit,"" humor; and Kafka, who, while showing ""that it's possible to write another way . . . to both apprehend it [the real world] and at the same time engage in an enchanting game of fantasy,"" has been ill-served by translators and biographers. Kundera also vigorously defends Stravinsky, whose detractors accusr him of""poverty of heart"" but didn't themselves ""have heart enough to understand the wounded feelings that lay behind his vagabondage through the history of music""; and composer Leos Jancek, though disdained for his innovative ""expressive clarity,"" is perhaps, Kundera contends, Czechoslovakia's greatest artist. A wide and engagingly erudite plea for keeping the faith and honoring the wishes of the illustrious dead, rather than insisting on our own self-serving agendas. Vintage Kundera.