Jacoba van Velde was born in The Hague, Netherlands, the youngest of four children in a working class family. Her two older brothers Bram and Geer van Velde grew up to become famous painters. She had to leave school at age 10 to work, but managed to teach herself different languages. At age 16, she went to Paris for dance training, and toured with a company throughout Europe. In 1924, she married Harry Polah (stage name of Salamon Polak), a violinist. They went to Berlin together and performed in cabarets and nightclubs together as Pola Maslowa and Rabanow. After a divorce, she remarried in 1937 to Arnold (Bob) Clerx, an actor and writer with whom she lived in Paris and Mallorca. After World War II, she briefly became a literary agent under the name Tonny Clerx, representing the as-yet-unknown Samuel Beckett, who was also a friend. In 1947, she gave up that role to focus on her own writing, producing novels and a play. Her second novel De grote zaal (The Great Hall) received much attention when it was published in 1953, but her fiction has since fallen into obscurity. She also translated works from French to Dutch, specializing in plays by Beckett, Eugène Ionesco and Jean Genet; some of these translations are still used today.